I miss the cicadas. Is anybody with me here? I miss the last, most beautiful, garish, carnagey stage of them the most. I miss the mullioned wings, with the orange edges, that lay on the sidewalk squares as I walked the kids to school a few mornings this week. Every two or three sidewalk squares, we'd see a couple, shining like found coins. of What explained that, we wondered.
Then I saw the answer in action, a sparrow, pulling a cicada wing from wing, bit by bit. The wings were the first to go. Most everything else seemed to get eaten, though some parts took longer than others. There was a sparrow midden at the side of our patio, eight wings in a foot-square patch of lawn, four bugs that are no longer with us, but weren’t going to be with us for long anyway.
My favorite image of cicadas is the wing on the ground, with the condensation on its underside, upside down dew rising on to a wing, with the droplets all self-contained and globular and iridescent and perfect, like raindrops on a lady’s mantle leaf.
What is getting fat off cicadas this year, I wondered? Are the sparrows having more chicks, the way squirrel broods increase when the acorn mast surges? Is the lawn going to be greener from having the wings fertilize it? From what I've read, wild turkeys are having a protein-filled year this year, while voles had a good year last year, when the larvae were plumpest, almost ready to emerge.
And how do the larvae know when 17 winters have passed? Do they grow 1/17th of a pupae each year? Is there some way a bug learned to count to 17? Why don’t separate teams of cicadas arrive every 17 years, so we’d have a 17-year hatch every year, just staggered a bit? What is evolutionarily adaptive about living underground, in pupae form, for almost two decades?
There was a cicada wing in the shower this morning. It may have been tossed in there by my nine-year-old son, trying to gross me out – he could’ve carried it in after dunking his head in the barrel we were using for the water gun fight. I hope it sticks around for a few more days.
We only get about five such outbreaks of these UFO-imitating, chorusing bugs. I was 33 the last time they came out, and living in the northwest, missing the show. I was 16 before that, oblivious and in New Jersey. I will be 67 next time, then, with any luck, 84 and maybe even 101. Bless the red-eyed, buzzing creatures for puzzling us, and for making us check our inner watches, and pay attention.
(photo by Kristine Paulus)