Monday, June 4, 2018

A Cicada Sonata

(I apologize to my readers in other countries who, unless familiar with cicadas, may have no idea what I'm writing about today, and perhaps could not care less.  Incredibly, there are no politics involved with cicadas - probably because they only live a few days, not nearly enough time on Earth for them to run for office.)

A Cicada Sonata

by Robert Barrow

PHOTO UPDATE - JUNE 8 2018:   I finally pulled the camera out and started taking photos of these fascinating critters.  By today, the song of the males' mating call drenches the air in all directions as cicadas invade and occupy the trees, the grass, the fences and anything else they can claim for short-term housing.  I'll include a picture below, and should mention that cicadas measure about two inches or so in length.  In a few more days they'll disappear as quickly as they arrived -- like any good momentary phenomenon worth its weight in the universe. - rb

At first, days leading to the end of May seemed uneventful, so mundane in their rural and semi-rural silence in the Northeastern U.S.  But then, as if members of some extraterrestrial orchestra had just landed and exited a spaceship, each playing some strange musical instrument in unison, peculiar sounds reached a heightened crescendo by the hour, then by the day.  Mere mortals might have detected two distinct wavering tones as the unyielding alien song filled the air, bathing areas just south of my location with a special sonic  presentation.

Indeed, no children alive and native to the area today, exposed to this widespread din appearing to come from some forgotten science fiction movie, would know they were hearing a virtual symphony -- a symphony of insects.  A mating call bolstered by numbers and volume.

Starting the lawn tractor for the fourth time in May, I proceeded along a familiar path, poised to mow down grass and weeds whose roots harbored no intentions of slowing growth so early in the season.  Yet, something was different visually, and as I looked back at the house and then returned my attention to the grass I saw them, red eyes betraying the critters' mysterious identity as 17-year cicadas, clinging to grass, weeds, trees and the house itself.  Both the cicadas and individual opaque shells from which they emerged covered the same areas, attached indiscriminately to anything capable of hosting their ostensible stick-on qualities.

As if somehow mandatory in a personal sense, I turned off the tractor and sat pensively in the yard, attempting to recall something of which I had promised to remind myself last time the 17-year crew conducted a brief takeover of the land.

Oh, yes.  Seventeen years ago I made a mental note to remind myself that the next time I encounter these strange little bugs I'll be turning 70.  So here I am.  Hmm.  Maybe the digit known as seven really is lucky, for both cicadas and people.

But there's that other little mental note I filed away 17 years ago.  The summer of 2018 would also mark 50 years since I left for Air Force basic training, having already been subjected to the Vietnam military draft's pre-induction physical exam and wanting no part of it.  Like thousands of other young men and parents throughout the country, we feared everything and understood little of those times, and if enduring a four-year enlistment over two years of extremely wild uncertainty was the best option short of running off to Canada, that's what I would choose. 

Enlistment quotas, obviously, were pretty much filled up with other young "draft evaders" whose destiny was clear, but after being rejected by various branches of the armed services, quenched by a surge of enlistees, I squeaked by and entered the Air Force.

Good thing, too, because my parents opened the mailbox not one week after I departed for basic training and were greeted with orders for the draft to spirit me away at once.

So yes, there were self-important reasons why I made a mental note to myself 17 years ago, just on the verge of summer's official return as the cicadas' song overwhelmed life's complacency.  So much we commit to memory, and so much we try to forget as time endows us with gifts of events both pleasant and harsh.

And now I must decide, I thought.  Shall I make another mental note to stake out past remembrances, once the offspring of this particular variety of cicada emerge in the year 2035 and remind me to remember again?  Beyond that, will I even be alive then, when the outrageously unthinkable age of 87 confronts me? 

If still living in 2035, will I still be as "sharp" as that insidious tack I've heard so much about all my life, whenever one's age enters the conversation, or will I be drooling on my bed sheets in a nursing facility, blissfully unaware that out there, somewhere near or far, the inevitable cicada sonata has returned to perform once again among an audience intrigued with song and red-eyed costumes designed like no other?

Make the mental notation, I subsequently urged myself, lest the very universal space which abhors a vacuum might deny my thoughts a future altogether.  But for now?  Back to springtime mowing, when nothing resists the urge to grow.

(Permission to quote or reproduce in total is granted, including the visual, provided you credit me at least by name, though I would also appreciate a brief note regarding the when, where and who if possible.)