Cumberland Times-News

June 1, 2013

Welcome the cicadas when they show up

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— They’re beautiful. Honest they are. They look a little like earthbound Monarch butterflies, the same gold accents against a dark background., with a touch of white to set them off. Of course, they don’t fly like butterflies, exactly. But they have other things to do in their time above ground.

I’m talking, of course, about the 17-year locusts, which , I’m told, will be celebrating one of their largest broods (Brood ll) this year and not too long from now either. In fact, maybe as you read this, you will hear the opening racket of one of the most fascinating natural shows that God has arranged among the everyday miracles of our world. (Not counting humankind, which started out as a miracle but sure deteriorated in a hurry,)

As far as I am concerned, the cicadas can’t come a moment too soon. I love them. And I have, ever since, oh, 70 or 80 years ago, when I first tripped over nature in my own backyard. And that’s not as normal as it sounds, because my first backyard was about three blocks from very busy downtown Wheeling, West Virginia, not exactly a a national park, even in those old frontier days!

As I have mentioned before, our church was actually in the center of town. (There was a Pure Oil gas station right next door on the corner). Our house was three blocks away. We never dreamed of driving to church, which had no parking lot. Instead, we always walked to church on the city streets, taking a healthy interest in the human sounds and sights along the way.

Naturally, there wasn’t a lot of farmland around to provide nature’s soundtrack. That’s unless you count nature as human nature, the kind that showed up in bars. There were half a dozen of these within a couple blocks of home, a fascinating primer on human nature for a teetotaling family.

Luckily, we had, right there in the center of town, a healthy-sized backyard, which still observed the natural calender, even though it looked foreign, exotic actually, for its time and place. And that’s why I loved it. There was a five-foot rosebush! And a dry old stunted apple tree. Which one exciting year actually had (dry, old, stunted) apples on it. I was known to sit up in that tree and think about reading a book there, although in real life, it was way too uncomfortable! Also, there was a young ailanthus tree around the side of the house, where no one but me ever went. It had palm-shaped branches that were perfect for waving when one acted out Palm Sunday in the spring. We didn’t much, but I often thought about it.

Backing up to the alley, which harbored auto repair garages, and mechanics ,and a local dairy which was happy to provide my nighttime lullaby of clinking bottles and delivery truck brakes, this backyard had enough greenery to provide a home to crickets, and, joy, joy, joy — your occasional cicada down through the years. For me, it was like a foreign country outside our back door.. They were an exotic element in that neighborhood, so I treasured them.

Cicadas have been around a long time. Even if that were the only reason, we should value them for that. They have persisted on this ground that we live on, and under it, for thousands of years. Before the Civil War. Before the Declaration of Independence. Maybe before Columbus made his monumental blunder, mistaking us for China. Before the Native Americans had their own version of the land to be natives of? When the Vikings sailed gingerly around the bends of the oceans, and settled along the coasts? And, who knows, perhaps even earlier still, the Stone Age, when life of any kind was a rare commodity, Funny to think of my funny little backyard reaching all that way back. Nature is amazing!

I can understand people who want to steer clear of cicadas..I can understand people who shy away from them, and grit their teeth on hearing them. But I cannot understand people who hate them, and tremble at the sight and sound of them. Come on, folks, suck it up. The cicadas have been doing this for hundreds of years. Mostly, they don’t get into your hair, or your eyes, or your mouth, and, if one does, hey, it’s big enough to spit out all in one piece.I have read that the one way to cure cicadaphobia is to confront it — walk out into a fieldful of shouting cicadas and take what you get with a smile. (Keeping your mouth closed, of course; even I can understand that.).

Buck up. For you it’s a few moments of annoyance — for them it’s a lifetime, and that lifetime amounts not just to the bit of it swarming aboveground or hanging off trees, but, of course, the 17 years underground, working up to this great moment. If I’ve got it right, — my sources are a little vague on this point — this isn’t even the biggest year for 17-year cicada broods — I wish it were because I don’t have a whole lot of chances left.

It gives us a picture of God’s universe that is completely independent of human beings, and that’s not all bad. I have to say it — I love you, cicadas. Welcome to our world.

Although preferably at your place and not mine.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.