Cicadas: Day 11

Hi Cicadas,

Well, here we are. You guys and me.

I know I was reluctant to welcome you all, the most magnificent Brood V, to the panhandle of West Virginia. I know I said hasty things I’d regret later. But I went out of my way, on Day 5 of your miraculous emergence, to correct my faulty thinking. I apologized to you for my vitriol. And I tried to make you feel at home and marvel at your evolutionary genius. We’ve settled into a routine now, right?

It’s just that…how do I put this?

The thing of it is, well, that was, like, Day 5. And you guys were crawling out of the ground in moderate numbers and unfurling your beautiful wings and resting in the shade, and my kids were playing with you and you were crawling on their shoulders and hanging off their ears. It was a jolly swell time, wasn’t it? And, you know, I’d just seen that amazing Kickstarter cicada video with the violins.

Violins, cicadas. I get swept up by violins. And then they threw in some sunset shots and some text that kind of faded into the background as the camera panned away from your little carcasses. I think I got lost in the romance of it, you know?

I went to Jamaica once. I’d just had a long, sad breakup and I was feeling really unattractive and miserable and lonely. And I got a little carried away by the romance of the island. Maybe I made some poor choices. It’s easy to do when you’re emotionally affected. But then, ultimately, reality sets in and you realize you’ve had fourteen Purple Rains and a roll of film is missing and it’s the dawn of the internet and girls are going wild and things aren’t quite as beautiful as you thought they were.

And I’m not likening you guys to regrettable Caribbean hot tub misadventures. Certainly not. It’s just that…not everything ends up quite the way we think it’s going to. Sometimes life is violins and sunsets, and sometimes life is a dog vomiting cicadas carcasses up onto the bedroom carpet.

Remember that time you just sort of sat on my lounge chair and stared at me and didn’t move and I was able to admire you in your stillness? That was nice. I was thinking about it the other day when one of you bumbled into my eye socket. Like, right into my cornea. And it’s not that I don’t welcome your morning input, but I also found one of you in my coffee cup. Why, cicadas?

Feel free to ride the dog–seriously–but could you hop off before the dog comes into the house? And could you, like, leave your exoskeletons maybe out in the yard instead of on my dental floss? Just a thought.

Quite frankly, you guys are kind of loud. And there are about 10 million more of you than I was expecting.

I mean, did you ever throw a party or maybe plan a wedding, and you have a set number of guests and the right amount of seats and food for those guests, and then on the day of the party Uncle Hank shows up with his new girlfriend and her four kids and they just kind of shrug and say, “Gee, hope you don’t mind our crashing your party–har har,” and then you realize you’re going to have to give up your own dinner because there’s not enough food for them so you just end up eating cold cocktail weenies off a toothpick while her kids gnaw on the steak you set aside for yourself and resenting the shit out of Uncle Hank who obviously doesn’t realize that she’s just using him for his time share in Myrtle Beach? God, what an oblivious idiot.

I’m not calling you party crashers. It’s just that there’s a lot of you. And normally in June, I’d be on my deck with a cocktail and a novel, or planting some caladiums, but at the moment you guys are so loud that I just feel like listening to the hum of my air conditioner instead. They say your decibel levels rival those of a rock concert. Heh. Wow. That’s something, eh?

I know this is your life cycle, and I was all, “Yay cicadas!” a few days ago. Really, I thought you were well on your way to doing your bug-romance thing. But I’ve noticed that some of you are still crawling out of the ground. Getting a late start on your emergence. In some circles, Cicadas, we’d call that rude. Lateness is generally frowned upon.

Sometimes I wish for a good old fashioned stink bug sighting again. And that’s not your fault. I’m sure it’s my own baggage I’m dealing with. Still, if you could work with me a bit, I’d appreciate it.

Also, I don’t know how to say this delicately, but some of you are starting to stink.

Cicadas: Day 5

NOTE: I wrote this blog on May 21.

I’m not really sure how one eats crow in a public forum when one has gone to such great lengths to denigrate and castigate an entire species.

A few months ago, I composed a blog about my distaste for the impending arrival of Brood V of the periodical cicadas. I said I wished to will them out of existence, to wreak an entomological genocide and wipe their presence from the face of the West Virginia hills. Or something like that. I was all up in arms about the Biblical swarm to come and dropped several unladylike f-bombs as I railed against the cicadas.

And now, with tail tucked firmly between legs, I offer up a sincere apology. Cicadas, please, hop onto my knotted rope so that I may flagellate myself a little harder. I deserve it. Because I think you’re so damn neat.

As their emergence neared, I grew ever more nervous. Ben and I watched the nymphs closely as they meandered in their tunnels under the pavers. The weather warmed; the weather cooled. Just when I thought they might appear, they didn’t. It’s like when you’re in the dentist’s chair waiting for a root canal and you hear the dentist approach and then retreat and you sort of want him to get his ass in there and get it over with and you sort of want him to fall down a mine shaft.

Anyway, I was anxious. The nymphs grew larger, and they built cicada chimneys from which they would eventually emerge. They did this a month ahead of time, proving that periodical cicadas are nothing if not neurotic over-planners.

I think that’s when I started to crack. Boom: there was my commonality. We’re both Type A, obsessive creatures who pack our bags a month ahead of time and have an eye on our escape root the moment we enter a building.

When I caught the boys stomping nymphs and crushing them with bricks, I was appalled. I told them that the little buggars had waited 17 years for this chance and that I wouldn’t stand for cicada cruelty, pain receptors or not. (They’re arthropods, after all, and so are lobsters, and don’t you tell me that lobster isn’t screaming to get out of that pot when you boil him up.) Suddenly, it seemed so unfair to have to work for 17 years for a chance at life only to meet your grisly end under the weight of a tiny Star Wars Croc. (All the more undignified a death should it prove to be a shoe that lights up.)

And then I saw that cicada video I put in the previous blog. It’s a genius piece of artwork, with the violins and all. Somehow an insect swarm, when put to piano and moody lighting, loses the ick-factor and becomes a moving and powerful example of the miracles in nature, of evolution. When they got to the individuals with the deformed wings, I was teary. When they all died, I was inconsolable. In fact, I dare anyone to watch that video and not be moved.

Cicadas, I love you guys.

The Return of the Cicadas

This filmmaker has made the periodical cicadas into something damn beautiful, here. It’s a kickstarter campaign, and I must admit I’m tempted to donate.

I’m allowing the wonder of the event to overcome my disgust. Perhaps, in reality, this is an amazing event.

17-Year Horrors

We’re about to undergo an event here in West Virginia. It’s a miracle of nature that happens only once per generation, a much-studied, much-anticipated entymological occurrence that makes the news and water-cooler conversations: the arrival of the periodical cicadas, a.k.a. the 17-year-locusts.

They aren’t locusts, technically. We refer to them as such out of habit around here. But these are cicadas, the same insects that arrive in August to drone on for a month. The regular summer bugs are what’s known as the “dog day cicadas”; what’s about to arise from the ground after 17 years of underground dwelling are the periodical cicadas. They come in 17- and 13-year versions and they spend their lives under the earth, chewing on tree roots and undergoing various metamorphoses, from what I’ve read. Then, when the 17th spring has arrived and the soil reaches 64 degrees, they all emerge in one giant horde, a display of the awesome power of nature and the wonder of evolution.

And it’s fucking disgusting.

I dread this emergence with every fiber of my being. In fact, I dread it so much that I’ve actually begun to concentrate my dread within my third eye in the hopes that if I resist their arrival with enough vehemence I may actually will it not to happen. And in so doing I will spare West Virginians the agony of Brood V’s wretched swarming.

It’s hard to consider myself a nature writer and admit that I despise the cicadas. I feel as though I really do my part to educate my kids when it comes to the creepy-crawlies. Every year Ben enjoys the arrival of the tent caterpillars (he calls them bagworms). We break open their nests and hundreds of squirming bodies plop out onto the ground. And I let them crawl on my arms so he can see that nature is not to be feared or choked down with a shiver and a gag. (This lesson wouldn’t apply if we lived in rattlesnake country, would it?) We also spend lots of time fondling earthworms and kissing crappie when we catch them. We dig up Florida Fighting Conch down at the condo in Fort Myers Beach, and poke at their slimy, tongue-like feet.

I don’t think that nature is gross at all. It’s miraculous. It’s nifty.

But not these fucking cicadas.

I was three when they first appeared, and I have no memory at all of the experience. My parents say it was eerie: as Dad walked his dog in the evening he became aware, suddenly, that they were all coming out of the ground, and millions of red eyes watched him. They rose like the dead in unbelievable numbers, discarding their shells as they did so at the base of every tree in piles ten inches thick. Mom recalls how they screamed all day, so loud that conversations were drowned out, and she specifically remembers the cicadas clinging to her shirt and sitting on her shoulder, singing their love songs in her ear.

I do not want this to happen. I do not want a song crooned in my ear. Especially not a cicada booty call.

They returned again in 1999, and as luck would have it, I did not return home from college that summer and missed the periodical cicadas entirely. The stories from that year are bland and uneventful; for whatever reason the bugs were not as intense as they had been 17 years prior. Nobody I’ve talked to can recall anything striking or significant.

In 2013, we saw what scientists call “stragglers.” These are cicadas that, for whatever reason, emerge 4 years too early or 4 years too late. There were a handful in the yard, just enough for the boys to gather and organize a cicada circus. I recall the red eyes. Dog day cicadas lack the red eyes and for that I am thankful. Demon bugs belong down in hell.

Yesterday we had some leaf-rakers tend to our yard. Over the long, cold months, the leaves tend to get caught in the gardeny places, between boxwoods and lilacs and under the hemlocks. When the guys raked clean the bare soil, I saw that it was pock-marked with holes, a tell-tale sign that cicadas are here. And when Benjamin lifted a rock, there they were.

They’re not yet ready to officially emerge. Still in their nymphal stage, they’re just below the surface, tunneling around like ants in an ant farm. Each rock and flagstone and flower pot we lifted had cicadas under it, burrowing. Ben poked at every single one of them, trying to decide whether they were fascinating or repellant. I tried my best to imply that they are fascinating. I even picked up a nymph and let it crawl upon my hand.

But I hate them. They’re going to cling to me. And rrrrrraaaaaiiiiirrrr in my ear.

Surely this is an evolutionary reaction. Somewhere in my genetic memory lies the recollection of an Egyptian plague, and the subsequent biblical trauma that ensued. It was a rough time. First, we were enslaved for 400 years. Then a plague of locusts started a big-ass coup, and everybody ended up wandering the desert for forty years. There were sunburns and lechery and a golden cow, and it really sucked.

I think I’m on to something, here.

Anyway, the El NiƱo has brought a warm spring and an early spring. And the bugs are awake and raring to go. Every day I wake up and wonder if they’ll be out, and I stare out at my baby redbud tree knowing I have to cover its new growth to protect it from the egg-laying females who will deposit their icky little spawn in the branches and damage them.

And so, I wait.