Cicadas are benign to humans under normal circumstances and do not bite or sting in a true sense, but may mistake a person for a tree or plant limb and attempt to feed.
Western Kentucky is drowning in the sound of 13-year cicadas, as they’ve returned above ground to lay their eggs. For we humans, the early days of summer have been deafened by their sound or grossed out by their exoskeleton remains, which are everywhere unless your dog enjoys them like popcorn.
I haven’t been too bothered by the cicadas. Yes, a couple of our trees have been covered by them. Yes, I’ve accidentally stepped on one or two. Yes, two actually managed to drop down our chimney. Yes, the sound is annoying — but it also has the benefit of drowning out the constant droning of the leaf blower down the street. No leaf, stick, or cicada remains has a chance with that guy.
My Facebook feed has been full of people’s photos and reactions to the cicada bloom. I feel sorry for the exterminators in town, whose phones have been ringing off the wall. The cicadas have moved even the most god-fearing gentlefolk to murderous thoughts.
“I’m completely grossed out. How do we kill the things?”
My favorite Facebook posts have been from my friend Ellis who, every few hours, posts what note the bugs are singing.
That’s all, nothing else on the post. Just the tone. It’s pretty hysterical. And of course, we all understand what she’s talking about. She’s also reposted cicada recipes that were earlier shared from common friends who no longer live in Western Kentucky. She’s reposted stories from newspapers and radio stations. But the thing I love? She hasn’t threatened to set off an A-bomb to eliminate the species. She’s used the bloom to mark the passage of time (as well as sound). When the bloom first began, she posted a photo of her wedding day, noting that these cicada’s are the children of the ones that emerged just after their wedding – 13 years ago.
When, on another post, she noted that the next time we see these cicadas, her son will be graduating from high school, I took it even further. Her daughter will be in college. Her sister Megan’s newborn baby girl will be 13 years old. In 26 years, that precious baby girl may be heading down the aisle at Murray Woman’s Club, looking as beautiful as like Ellis and Megan both did. When I envisioned myself at 77 years of age sitting at Amelia’s wedding, that’s when it hit me. The best way to embrace the cicadas is use them to mark the passage of time. What were you doing 13, 26, 39 years ago? What do you hope will be happening in your life 13 years from now? 26? For me, I hope to be retiring from the job I love in 13 years. I have 13 more years to accomplish everything I want to do, 13 more years to make a difference. Thirteen years, a mere speck in the cicada time continuum.
The juneberry, or saskatoon berry, is a tasty and nutritious berry native to North America. The flavor of the fruit is similar to sweet black cherries or a mild blackberry, with a hint of almond in the tiny, soft seed.
During this year’s cicada bloom, we discovered that the apple serviceberry bush that is planted beside our bedroom window was covered in tiny maroon/purple berries. While the shrub has bloomed before, it’s never produced berries. So after a few minutes on the internet, we discovered that the berries had a name (Juneberry) and that yes, they were edible, but most importantly, the internet claimed they made glorious jam. Once I read that, I practically dropped my iPad as I went in search of a bucket.
In about 30 minutes, my Beloved and I picked 10 cups of berries, which produced the best jam I’ve ever eaten. Literally. The Juneberry tastes like a cherry and a plum and a apple. Their tiny seeds look like sesame seeds and give the jam a deep nutty flavor. We’re talking perfect jam that has plenty of its own pectin and doesn’t require an unholy amount of sugar. You won’t find Juneberries at Kroger, because they are too labor intensive to harvest commercially. But if you happen to have one of these shrubs in your front yard, you have a gold mine. The next day, we picked more and I made another batch of jam. By that point the tree was nearly bare. The birds, spiders, and ladybugs who had been munching their breakfast were angry at our invasion. But the one thing we didn’t see were cicadas, as they were too busy working on the Bradford pear tree. We picked what we could and decided to leave the remaining berries for the wildlife, who wanted them as much as we did. An hour later, I added 13 glistening new jars of jam to the pantry.
When I opened our drapes this morning, I saw that there were still a lot of berries left, despite the fact we left them a week ago. Determined not to lose any, we went back outside to pick them. As a soft, soft rain fell, we reached through the branches, bending them to get to the berries that neither we nor the birds had collected. Each time we moved, a shower of rain droplets drenched us. I looked at my husband, determined to save the memory of him picking berries off a bush (while it rained) in our front yard, just so I could make more jam. My heart was full of love. Then I came face to face with an annoyed cicada who began chirping his displeasure, two inches from my nose. His friend on the next branch joined in as if to say, “You tell her, buddy!”
That’s when I flicked the first cicada off the branch.
His buddy sat there watching me with his five eyes, as if pondering what was going to happen next. So I flicked him off his branch. I swear, he screamed. All the way to the ground.
That cicada should have emerged in Hollywood, because he could’ve had a career. We knew he wasn’t hurt. He was just dramatic.
While waiting to pick up my son, I noticed him swooping down to the ground. When he got in the car, I asked what he was doing. He said that he saw a cicada flipped over on his back, and that since it really didn’t live that long, he didn’t want it to spend its remaining days laying on its back.
And there it is. No matter how annoyed or grossed out you may be, the cicadas are God’s creatures. They have hearts, minds, and yes, dramatic personalities. But they’re apart of our lives every 13 years. Honestly, I doubt we really understand why they exist. I’m sure there are proclaimed experts who have dedicated their lives to their study. Not to discount their life’s work, but I don’t care why they exist. I’m just glad they do, and sadly I’ll miss them when their gone, which newscasters have predicted to be in a couple of weeks.
So long, gang. I look forward to meeting your kids in 13 years.