August 14, 2018

Cicadas are the bugs that come out of the ground, some every year, and others on 13 or 17 years cycles. They crawl to surfaces of tree bark or brick walls, cling to them and go through a transformation. They split open from forehead, down their backs to the “tail bone.” Then a winged creature eases out, leaving an empty husk. These things are no butterflies. They go from ugly to uglier to ugliest. Large dark bug eyes sit far apart over a fighting mask of a face. They have wings larger than their bodies that are clear as glass but for the webbing that holds the clear spaces together. After they dry off from their hatching, they fly to the hottest places they can find in tops of trees, along river bottoms and in thickets, in the highest treetops on main streets.

They are summer’s bugs, heralds of hot days, loudest at the times of the day when the humidity and heat have become a smothering blanket, and “sing” most loudly when we humans are getting close to quitting time. They remind me of times when I worked pouring concrete, hauling hay, framing houses, late afternoon football practice, running on the college campus before the sun went down. They remind me of sweat, work, and being close to the earth. They also remind me of pitching baseball to my sons on our field. It is really a flood plain near a wet weather creek where the trees and brush are so thick that you can’t see through them. Sometimes the cicadas were so loud, our voices were like background noise to their symphony.

At the time of day when everything in nature is quiet because it’s so hot, they start their warm up. They have a sound I can’t really describe. One will begin its “whining” that starts slow and builds to a crescendo, just as another and another and another does the same thing. Before long the sound blends into the starting and stopping rhythms that have no conductor but they know how to work together like an orchestra. They “sing” in the hottest heat, they are ugly as garbage, you can’t be near them unless you’re sweating. And yet they let us know that life is pulsing with perseverance and the music of the earth is never ending.

That symphony part is what I think makes them so magical and memorable to me. They “sing” to us that the day is almost done. Evening is coming. Life is good. Time to rest has arrived. Clean up, eat supper, and hang out. It’s amazing to me that something so darn ugly can bless so deeply.