A Plague of Cicadas

Once in awhile 

God sends us a reminder

that we are human 

and God is God.

Every seventeen years Magicicada Septendecim (periodical cicadas or seventeen-year locusts) emerge from the deep mysterious underground. It takes seven to ten days for the adults to shed their exoskeleton and mate. Here in the Southwest Corner of Pennsylvania, this is the year.

Yes. They have emerged.

And this seems a fine time for me to emerge from my own writing cocoon. I’ve designed and redesigned the blog; thought and rethought;, written and rewritten; and the best I’ve come to is, yes, i need to write.  And I probably shouldn’t wait seventeen years to restart.

These cicadas just beg to be examined.three stages of periodic cicada

In the week that I have had this post in my draft box, I’ve re-written it twice, and renamed it three times. As the cicada plague worsens, so does my attitude towards it. At first it was fascinating, in an ugly, horrifying way. Now it has just become horrifying.

Some of those who study such things predict 1.5 million cicadas per acre. That’s 4.3 million giant ugly bugs that have just gotten their wings on our property alone…Need I say more? With my trusty smasher I walked our buildings this afternoon and killed 178 253 375. That’s three hundred seventy-five less, right? As the days wear on, I reckon between the two of us, we kill 500 per day. And yes, some people eat them.

The experts say Keep Calm and Carry On: the adult cicadas aren’t hungry and it is the larvae who will damage the precious little branches of your fruit trees. But these flowers sure look damaged to me…

These used to be pretty impatiens...

These used to be pretty impatiens…

The truth is maybe they aren’t hungry. But they are thirsty, and they latch on to one’s beautiful flowers (that one has just bought for $85 at a nursery–including a gorgeous hanging basket for $30) and drink the water out of them, and the plants die.

It is a beautiful Memorial Day Monday and I’m sitting inside writing this post, because I don’t even want to go outside. Can I truly hibernate in the cottage until mid-July?

Our Winesap apple wrapped up in netting…

We’ve wrapped two of our fruit trees with netting, and then it seemed to us we might be wasting our time; plus we ran out of netting. So I guess we can call it a grand experiment. What troubles us the most is that two of our apple trees had many many little precious apples on them… Lovely little green and red swirly marbles that we were counting before they hatched ripened… And the female cicada’s dream house? A fruit tree branch 3/4 inch in diameter where she makes little slits and lays her eggs.

I am reminded of a plague of locusts of biblical proportions. Floods, hurricanes, plagues — yes, we are humans and God is God. I am like Lot’s wife, not trusting that all will be well, and looking back one last time to get a glimpse of beautifully tended flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees — a landscape that only existed in my April dreams.

Seventeen years. It’s a long time to incubate in the ground. My neighbor told me that the ground most infested is undisturbed ground, especially near trees. There’s a metaphor here too, I’m sure. If you don’t turn over that ground of your soul, if you don’t keep it plowed and ready for seed, it gets infested with stuff that you don’t even know is there until seventeen years later…  And then it looks like this:

This is just a sweeping of one corner of the porch. I had three piles this size in the space of two hours.

This is just a sweeping of one corner of the porch. I had three piles this size in the space of a half-hour.

I’ve been reading some odd stuff about these cicadas on the Internet. Our local bakery is roasting them and serving on them on omelettes and making chocolate chip crunch cookies with a roasted, sugared cicada as garnish. I’ll pass, thank you. I don’t think eating insects with red eyes is good for you. Plus, I’ve squished a lot of these things and have seen what’s inside them. Ugh.

There is even a web page called Cicada Mania where you can buy coffee mugs and t-shirts with cicadas emblazoned on them. If any of you want a coffee mug of these bugs, just let me know and I’ll send you some. We have more than our share. I can put some on a t-shirt and sent them to you too, if you’d rather…

And then I read comments like this: Enjoy them… Please don’t kill the cicadas, or let children use them as torture toys. They have waited years and years underground for this brief climax of their lives, when they turn into winged creatures whose joy is sunlight and mating. When the food supply in their bodies runs out, they die. They cannot eat. And by sheer numbers, they provide food for birds, small mammals, reptiles and in death, fertilize the trees…

I’m pretty sure this commenter is a city apartment dweller and her front porch doesn’t look like this:porch covered with periodic cicadas

or her house walls like this:Periodic Cicadas on house wall

or her fruit trees like this:

Seventeen Year Locusts on apple tree

or her front yard tree like this:

periodic cicadas on sycamore

 Oh, wait — don’t kill the bugs… their joy is singing and mating and sunlight. Tralaa-tralaa….

Bah, Humbug!

And if these photos weren’t ugly and graphic enough, here is a video. It is totally amateurish, but it is taken right outside our front door. When shooting it, I moved about three feet and 360 degrees. The background is the cicadas singing. I’m told the males sing to find a mate. They don’t have to go far…

The plague is supposed to be over by mid-July. By that time, the dead bodies will have rotted, the smell will be gone, and probably the apples too. I’ll keep you posted… In the meantime, no one is invited to the cottage this summer — Not that you’d want to visit after seeing these pictures.