in defense of the emergent sucking masses

by bam

look elsewhere, friends, if it is a recipe for fricassee of cicada you are after. you’ll not find ways to sizzle crunchy bugs in bath of butter. not here, i tell you.
not even if, if i understand correctly, they are best when just emerging from their rip-van-winkle slumber and shedding their standard-issue nymph skins, all naked milky-white there upon on the tree trunks, tasting rather like cold, canned asparagus.
now i like asparagus. even in a can. one of the rare few vegetables that can slither out of a can and still be considered chic enough to serve on ladies’ luncheon plates.
but i’ll not have at the poor emergent masses. will not spear them with my fork, the little darlings who do not bite, the red-eyed, orange-legged, technicolor visions that, at twilight this very night, shall be arriving without their suitcases.
who thinks to pack when going under for 17 winters, 17 summers, and all those springs and falls besides?
there is hubbub in all the land, it seems. everyone is gaga, getting armed for the invasion. i doubt there is a speck of netting left in any store. i have christo visions of vast acres wrapped in tutu netting.
but not at my house. not here where since my manchild was a wee one he has learned the fine art of shooshing out the fly. not smashing the fly. not splatting the fly. merely opening a window, and escorting the little fellow out.
i cannot quite so proudly boast of child no. 2. he is more the hunter than the gatherer. he is known to flick a worm, to poke the bug that thinks to land in his vicinity. i have my work cut out for me still.
but for tonight, i say, grab the picnic blanket, stretch out on the lawn, take in the epic, once-a-generation show.
because i grew up in an age of drive-in movies where black-and-white crawling insects, with bugged-out eyes, and flailing antennae, would be blown up big, so big you could make out the outlines from the other side of the cornfield, i have in my head a sort of 1950s sci-fi image of all the planet quaking, drum-beat drumming, as the earth lets loose and vast armies of cicada come up from the underground.
i see my whole backyard awash in exoskeletons. i hear the nights, the days, thick with cicada calls. that rubbing, thrubbing that, i’m told, will sound almost as if the bugs are chanting, “pharoah, pharoah.” (i’ll be ear to ground, i tell you, to see if i can make that out.)
in fact, before i did a tad of reading, i thought this morning would be that way. i thought i was waking up to a land of uninterrupted cicada, unbroken plain of newly emerging ruby-eyeballed critter.
but, dang, i went out to fetch the milk, and not a single bugger did i eyeball.
alas, we must wait still longer. tonight at sunset, perhaps, the underground alarm will rouse them from their mighty nap, and en masse, they will roust about, make for higher parts, begin their final march to death.
for really, truly, this is it. the closing chapter for what the bug people, the entomologists, refer to as brood X, of the order magicicada.
when the little nymphlets crawled into the ground, way back in 1990, back when lech walesa got the vote in poland’s planet-shaking presidential count and the two germanies agreed to come together, the life that lay before the ’cadas was plotted out as this: sleep. sleep. sleep. emerge. mate. die.
in six short weeks, it will all be over. their lives, recorded nowhere really, duly ended. by the time the fireworks of independence day burst into the sky, brood X, class of ’007: mere history.
this is, though, a rather booming crescendo to their humdrum lives. they sleep in silence, occasionally rolling over to nibble on a tree root. they slither out without much sound, an astounding fact considering that there are some 1.5 million of the little critters per acre, people. you would think that, even tippy-toeing, that many feets would make a rumble.
ah, but then, once they shed their nymph robes, take on the sleek black sheath of adult cicadahood, the rumble will begin.
they do not go quiet unto death.
they wake the neighbors, darn it. they keep the babies up and squawking.
if you were pre-programmed to sleep, to wake, to mate, to die with your entire population, you too, might make a hearty noise.
so let the noise begin, i say. let the backyards rumble.
the boy cicadas will shake their tymbals, that is the noisemaker on their bellies. if a girl is keen for how he shakes, she’ll flick a wing, let him in on her affection. sort of like winking from the far end of the bar in some smoky den on rush street, i suppose.
off they’ll flit. but once they fornicate (yes, that’s the scientific word), he’ll keel over. kaput, the end. he’s dead.
she, though, gets to carry on a little longer. she will bear her eggs, some 600 if you’re counting. and she will make a little slit in your branch (that’s where the netting might come in, if you are into cicada prohibitions). she will drop her load. and when she’s done, done carrying on the species, she, too, will succumb. she too will keel.
the little baby cicadas, now orphaned, will crawl back underground, will go to sleep, perhaps in teeny tiny tears. before they lull to sleep, one of ’em will have to think to set the alarm. turn the hands of the big cicada clock to 2024.
when once again, i will do all i can to keep the hungry paws of all the poachers off whoever it is who emerges from my lawn.

sign up here if you too want to join the save-the-cicada brigade. they really aren’t much nuisance, just a little crunching underfoot, a little noisy maybe. put up an umbrella if you must. but do not, whatever you do, wave a fry pan in my presence. let me know how you weigh in on the awesome sucking cicada.
stay tuned in case i change my mind…
oh, one last thing: the little darlings carry quite a load of mercury, it seems. so before you bite, consider that.

on another subject altogether: over on the bottomless cup, there is a newly poured essay from the mother of ben byer, the brave hero who lives with ALS, and who wrote and produced the award-winning documentary “indestructible.” check it out. you won’t regret.