Seventeen and excited. Singing about sex and dying young.
I’m not talking about The Doors. I’m talking about the cicadas known as “Brood II,” which have emerged from the earth in enormous numbers this summer, from Texas to Massachusetts, after 17 years, to sing, mate and die.
My family and I spend our summer vacation in upstate New York, which is apparently cicada central. The creatures arrived in late May and still are going strong. By that, I mean you can hear them all day long (but not at night), buzzing like something out of a sci-fi movie, a high-pitched invading army. And the shells they crawl out of when they get to the surface?
As repulsive as only a bug shell can be but bigger — and brown, with little leg-encasing shell bits still attached.
Nonetheless, and to my complete amazement, I’m realizing I am going to miss the not-so-little buggers when they’re gone — and I am not alone.
Outside on the lawn, I see a girl of 7 picking cicadas like daisies. A friend tells me his kids are having a ball trying to race them (which, for the record, does not work).
On websites such as Cicada Mania, people write up their favorite viewing places: “If you want to see and hear the Brood II cicadas, play hookey this week, and head on up the Hudson Valley in New York State. DO IT! It’s your last chance until 2030.” (The writer added that he’d visited several lovely towns along the way, but there’s “no time for human fun when you’re tracking cicadas.”)
And then, when I posted on Facebook something about my newfound fondness for the bugs, other fans came, well, crawling out.
“I have found their appearance to be profound. Have learned how to identify males from females (for some reason it’s females who wind up in our pool skimmers),” wrote Lizzie Bibb. “The whole Rip Van Winkle, wake up and party like we’re 22 and live like you’re dying ethos is soooo poetic.”
Yeah, as long as you’re the one not doing the dying. She added, “Also had a terrible experience yesterday when I moved an overturned pot and discovered about 30 cicada ‘husks’ and dead cicada adults — after 17 years, they had come up from underground only to discover that they were living under ‘The Dome’ — so no two weeks of wild, libertine abandon. Just more darkness. :(“
I echo that frowny face. Fortunately, lots of other bugs and their watchers have had a far better time. “I like how you find their molted skins clinging to leaves, like ghost cicadas,” wrote a gal named Elizabeth.
“I admire them because they protect their species by coming in such numbers that the birds couldn’t possibly eat them all. (Maybe like the fans at Woodstock?)” wrote Jennifer Carney Collman, a business consultant in Charlotte, N.C.
But a New York City friend of mine never got to experience the pleasant plague: “Feeling robbed! They never got as far as Queens and I only saw a couple in New Jersey. I always thought of them as one of the odd but unique features of summer, like the smell of creosote, the flash of fireflies and calm of warm, lingering dusks.”
Beauty is where you see it. Cicadas emerging from 17 years of darkness see it in the other cicadas. Humans who reject bug hating darkness see it there, too.