I may be wrestling with a whole new round of decisions about how to emerge from Pandemic isolation. But for the 17-year cicadas, emerging is a no-brainer: any day now the soil in my yard will be warm enough to signal: it’s time. And my young apple tree is protected.
You have to love the mystery of them, and how they live up to their genus name, Magicada. I tried and failed via Googling to locate any other living phenomenon that has a 17-year cycle. Perhaps God wanted to avoid adding numerical significance to their appearance that would inspire us humans to assign it any apocalyptic interpretation during a time when it’s really attractive to go there.
This is the 5th cycle in my lifetime, and given how the days, weeks, and even seasons have vastly lost their meaning over fourteen months of pandemic isolation, the cicada life-cycle offers an interesting contrast to other ways of structuring life review: say, by decade, or stage of life, or by event milestone.
In 1953 I was out of Magicada’s range, a nine-year-old growing up in Ohio.
My roller-skating and bike-riding went uninterrupted by small flying objects. I liked Ike, who was president. My first experience of national tragedy, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, was a decade away.
In 1970 I was the mom of a 3-year old living in the heavily-infested neighborhood of Mt. Washington in Baltimore.
The many large old trees were one of the attractions of the neighborhood, and from their canopies the male cicadas’ mating calls were so loud that it was impossible to have a conversation in the yard. Traversing the walk from curb to front door meant the bumbling two inch-long critters landing any and everywhere, and the crunch of bodies underfoot. They were easily brushed off, but occasionally succeeded in hitchhiking into the house. By the end of the cycle, it meant using a shovel to clear the outdoor stairwell and even parts of the garden of their empty exoskeletons.
I was four years out of college, house-wifing in a White mid-20th-century way. The summer of the Watergate hearings, spent with my ear to a transistor radio, was four years off. And the feminist wave that was to knock me over in just a few years was not yet gathering on my horizon.
By 1987 I was divorced and remarried, doing anti-hunger work for a non-profit, and living in a different neighborhood.
Plenty of big old trees. And yet to my surprise, the cicada song was significantly less deafening and more musical, and the likelihood of being bumped into by a zig-zagging flying critter was fairly low. I recall spending much of the cycle in speculative contemplation at the number of cicadas unable to emerge because they had been paved over: we live just off a major east-west thoroughfare that was expanded to six lanes during the mid-seventies. Ronald Reagan, in his second term, was just six months away from prohibiting abortion-assistance to federally funded family-planning centers. So much for the feminist wave, as the pendulum of control over women’s bodies began to reassert itself.
By 2004 I was nine years into recovery from burnout, into healing studies, and half-way through an MS in herbal medicine.
The cicadas didn’t interfere with our field days: there was just a lot of swatting the air and one-another’s clothing, and an occasional squeal from a squeamish classmate. I had spent the previous year on an an assignment for People, Plants, and Seasons. My fundamental question: what is the relationship between human nature and Mother Nature? Between the patterns, cycles, behaviors of humans and other living creatures and the whole messy collective that we are? Over the course of that year I filled three sketchbooks with field drawings, botanical and medicinal information, and personal reflections. I took photos, pressed plant material, tucked away quotes that touched me. I lived life, became a grandmother for the second time, and tended my mother through what turned out to be the final three months of her life. It was an unsettling and awe-filed year: the potency of birth and death, the generational shifts, full of feeling and poignancy. The relationship between human and Mother Nature revealed through the seasons. 9/11 had shattered the soul of the America since the cicadas had last sung.
2021: I anticipate Magicada’s arrival, particularly their song…
…and yet with mixed feelings, as I am hoping they won’t be so plentiful that they further delay gathering outdoors with a friend during Pandemic Spring number two. My sole preparation has been netting the young apple tree we planted last year. Cicadas lay their eggs under the bark of a tree, and the slits they create to do so are likely to damage younger trees.
I am not laying any odds that I will be around at age 94 to see the next emergence in 2038. I hope you, dear Reader, will be around to observe that we have made progress in racial conciliation through countless changes of heart and law, and as of now unimaginable levels of restorative justice skills. That we are very very close to everyone being housed and fed. That AI has not become one more technology to spawn a plague of preventable unintended consequences. That we will have long stopped new beachside development. That we are happier, and safer, with less-is-more.
And so I wait and I watch, and I wonder: what’s my equivalent to just-right soil temperature?
Under what conditions will I emerge from Covid-19 isolation?
Will I remember how to behave around people?
Will I find that some old ways of behaving are better forgotten in the context of pandemic and racial reckoning?
What is the “new normal” I want to help shape? Ahh! See above paragraph.