Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cicada Day 2011

I just came back from a walk on this beautiful and sunny day during the second 13-year periodical cicada hatching of my time in the Midwest. My first mega cicada day came 13 years ago, on our son's birthday, May 16. His present that year was a badminton set, and very shortly after we set up the net, it was covered with cicadas. That year happened to be the one time every 221 years that both the 13-year and the 17-year variety emerge at the same time.

This year we only have the 13-year variety.

13 years ago the sound of the cicadas was so loud that it was impossible to hear much of anything birdwise (or otherwise). When I played an outdoor wedding that June (the cicadas remained active for three or four weeks), the sound of the cicadas pretty much masked what we were playing--kind of like several giant lawnmowers.

This year the birds are singing happily, celebrating what is probably like a once-in-13-year Thanksgiving, while the click-click-click of the cicadas serves as a layer of faint and occasional percussion. 13 years ago there were piles of dead cicadas sitting around like piles of leaves, and dogs would gorge themselves on what turned out to be an unexpected treat.

The periodic hatching of cicadas, and the mole activity that precedes it, reminds me that in a world that we believe is growing smaller by media (such as the blogosphere, television, and podcasts) is really huge, and really awesome (in the literal sense of the word). Nature moves in rhythms that most of us don't notice much beyond the span of a year. Spring, when it finally does arrive, obliterates much of the winter that came before. It seems that one season is about as much as we can keep in our physical memories, because the here and now is so powerful. Anything else is just a snapshot (this is the same tree). I'm happy that I have been able to take musical snapshots.

Yes. I am working on some spring-themed violin duets, and you can bet that the sounds of birds and cicadas will work their way in.


Anonymous said... you mean locusts? Don't cicadas come every year?

Elaine Fine said...

Locusts are related to grasshoppers, and look like grasshoppers. Cicadas, which are not hopping creatures, are sometimes called locusts, but they are not. Locusts eat crops and do lots of damage, but cicadas are completely harmless. There are cicadas that are annual, and then there are cicadas that are periodic. The sound of the annual cicadas is kind of the normal hum of summer, but the collective sound of the periodic cicadas is different, particularly since they emerge all at once.