Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of cicadas. Late spring 1987: My family had recently moved a few miles west, from Vienna, VA to Oakton, staying in a long tongue-like extension of the same school district so that my brother and I didn't have to change schools. I was in seventh grade at Thoreau Intermediate, surviving junior high and developing my mad hall-collision-avoidance skills (really, I had to be on my toes; people seemed to be trying
to run into me).
And it was during the typical wrapping-up-the-year madness you find at school that a noise I still remember started its sound...
For the first time in 17 years -- for the first time in my life -- the cicada brood that had been gestating underground in Virginia and nearby states made their way up, up, up. And suddenly these thick, more-than-one-inch-long bugs were everywhere and on everything (kind of like the snakes on a plane
! Well, except for the killing and the slithering), clinging en masse
to branches and trunks and making their mating call.
It was like an invasion of weedwhackers. The sound was amazing
, almost science fictional. (Remember the laser blast noise from the George Pal War of the Worlds
? It was kind of like a continuous version of that.) It never felt Biblical -- cicada awakening is never as serious as, say, a plague of locusts -- but it was overwhelming. And the cicadas were completely tame; I picked up many of them, getting a close look at the things and being fascinated. I remember picking one up at my bus stop at Stuart Mill Road and Ayreshire one morning, and (as I was standing off to the side from my fellow students, so I had some privacy) reciting to it a line Calvert DeForest once said on Late Night with David Letterman
: "I'm qualifed to dispence advice on personal matters, financial matters and affairs of the heart. If you had some problem with that, I'm also qualified to crush your head like a grape." (I only mimed crushing its head like a grape. Part of what made DeForest's "crush your head like a grape" comment funny was that he was this completely unthreatening round guy. And the cicada was doing nothing to me, so it wouldn't have been right.)
The cicadas did do some damage -- sucking nourishment out of many tree branches, and making them dry up and break off, so I'd then clean them up as part of my yard duty (our house was on three-quarters of an acre with trees on three-and-a-half sides) -- but nothing on the scale that you'd imagine a similar-sized swarm of other insects could've done.
Strangely, while obviously the bugs had to have died once they mated and left their eggs, I can't remember cleaning up any of the carcasses. I'm sure I did -- everywhere and on everything, remember -- but my big memory of it was, again, that sound. It still amazes me that I experienced that.
I learned from listening to Don and Mike back in 2004 that, in comparison with the 1987 appearance, the next cicada appearance in Northern Virginia was...ah, disappointing. The explosion of development that took place in the intervening years disrupted many of the egg sites over those years. Don and Mike knew this for certain because one of their show-running guys played for them tape recordings he'd made back in 1987, his tape recorder plugged into an outside outlet so he could stand outside at night and record that noise. It wasn't as overwhelming. But for the first time in 17 years, thanks to recording technology, I could hear that noise again.
Nature: once again, amazing.(inspired by this link on metafilter)