The cicadas

They are the music of Montgomery in late summer, these horrifyingly ugly and stupid insects. Around 7 or 8 in the evening, their full serenade kicks in like a quivering opera whose deafening and reverberating aria entertains your dinner party, your “quiet” evening read outside, echoing even inside your house if you, like us, have the original windows in your old and poorly insulated house.

The day we moved in, assisted by brothers Jesse and James (the small poetry of rural Alabama working for us in sweaty shifts moving endless boxes of books from Tuscaloosa against the heat powered by Moe’s and a startling supply of Powerade), we were accosted by one in the front entryway to our house. It scared me, as large bugs often do, and I ran inside. Jesse (or James, I forget which – sorry, guys) said he’d take care of it and went after it with his shoe. I was inside watching his flailings through our red front door’s glass cut-outs, and I will never forget the way the bug screamed about being chased, and injured, and dying – it pierced me in a pecuilar way, seeming so alive, and tragic, and angry, and sad.

Our first month in Montgomery was August, when they are at their finest, this legion of silver-winged bugs. We would go for dog walks as soon as it got cool enough, and sometimes had to yell at each other to be understood in conversation about our new life here among the giant cicada-filled trees. None ever came near the house, as far as I know, after the grisly death of their original emissary. It’s weird not to see them, but to hear them constantly, loudly, especially in the evenings when you still sweat from sitting outside but welcome it as a kind of cool all the same. I find that I miss them in the other seasons.

Yesterday when weeding among our prolific tomato plants I found a wing, just one, silvery and clearly from a cicada, and I wondered at its death or rebirth here in our garden. Was it a predatory bird that found it? A disease or accident? Where was the rest of it? I chose not to look too closely, soaked the soil with the hose, and went inside.

I don’t know much about them, as I basically hate most insects even as I appreciate their value to the ecosystem, etc., etc. I particularly hate the blind squishiness of the cicada, its single minded straight flight that will as soon run right into you, seeming blind and impervious, perhaps driven by the desire to mate or sing or both. I do know that there are some that only emerge from the ground every 7 or 10 or 12 years, and remember a story a friend told on moving to Kansas in the year of emergence, wherein her porch was covered in their writhing bodies and eventual carcasses inches deep. She was afraid to go outside. Such power they have – the ability to shape our soundscape, to carve their way into our memories of summer like a love note on tree bark. I don’t want them in my house, but I’m happy they’re here.


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