It starts with a pleasant and somewhat soothing chirping. Wee voices in the night calling out to one another. A quiet sit on the porch and I enjoy the company. Like an orchestra tuning up to the pitch of an oboe, it begins. As each instrument struggles to match the tone, the dissonance is shrill to the ear.
But I am patient, and know that once in tune, there will be a silent segue into song.
Not here. Nope. Not on MY porch.
No soaring sonata.
Instead, a cacophony of cicadas.
Chirping back and forth in pairs comfortable in the night. When two owls give a hoot and return a toot. Like watching a tennis match with your ears. Tilting my head in one direction and then the other. Tuning my bat ears in echolocation. Ahhh. So there you are. One in the birch and the other in the walnut tree beneath the garden wall.
Or whip-or-wills trilling a Q&A session.
I begin to twitch a bit as this conversation continues as it reminds me of my hard-of-hearing elderly Aunt and Uncle repeatedly asking one another "Who?" and "What?" over and over in the middle of the sermon on Sunday morning.
Of course, my all time favorites are the frogs or the toads or whatever amphibians croak deep in the dark. I imagine their throats puffing up, their bulging eyes emitting tiny yellow flashes in the reeds along the stream, as they take a breath from deep in the diaphragm and belch into the night. Ribbit. Ribbit. Ribbit. A low gravelly rumbly tumbly sound.
So what's so disturbing about a few chirping cicadas?
Unfortunately, the few has become many.
All chirping at once.
Droning on and on and on and on and on.
Humming. Hum hum hum hum hum hum.
On and on and on and on and on and on.
It drives me crazy. Out here on my porch.
Go inside, you say. Well I did and I do, but they are chirping so loudly I swear the windows are rattling, and if I leave the light on, they fly into the windows, suffer a concussion, and give ME a headache.
A nuisance is the person behind you in line talking on their phone, or the waitress clicking her pen and popping her gum as she drums a fake fingernail on the edge of your table while you decide what to order.
A nuisance has a beginning and an ending.
This buzzing, humming, droning goes on and on and on.
I read about it in an article the other other day. A mysterious hum identified in several parts of the world from Taos, New Mexico to Scotland and as far as Australia. Only this steady humming thrumming sound was heard INDOORS. Heard only by about 2% of the population with bat ears like mine, echolating all over the place, finding and symbolizing NOTHING.
Sensors, sonars, and audiological studies proved the following:
No Identifiable source.
No reason why or where or who or what.
No big deal for 98% of the population going about their lives tuned into the normal frequencies of the day. Oblivious.
For the remaining 2%, the ones who COULD hear it, who COULD NOT turn it off or tune it out...
Let's just say we share a symbiotic dread of droning.
Then this morning, when I stepped outside to water my plants, I saw it.
A concussed little cicada.
Lying at my feet on the dampened rock beneath my toes.
A little green cicada. I reached down to pick it up. I held it in the palm of my hand and realized it was not concussed. It was not taking a morning nap in the sun.
It was dead.
One less little chirping cicada.
I should gave felt a sense of relief. One less droning voice in the night.
I felt terrible.
So I brought it in and gently laid it beside me on my table. I needed to know more about this creature. Up close, its legs tucked in, its bulging eyes still open, its wings flat against its body. I placed it near my jar of rocks and twigs and stones, the one I keep with souvenirs of my walks at dusk. I wanted it to be with nature. I wanted it to feel safe in here with me.
Cicadas. I looked them up in the nature encyclopedia. Here, where I live, they tend to visit in large groups, a cicada convention, in thirteen year cycles. Somehow, somewhere, a signal is given and the nymphs rise from their holes dug deep in the earth where they have waited patiently, likes seeds planted in the Spring awaiting the first rains and hint of warmth. The females fly to the nearest tree and lay their eggs. Masses of eggs. Baby cicadas to be. The momma and poppa cicadas molt, exfoliate, and stand in line at the end of the food chain for the squirrels and the birds to consume. The eggs hatch, the new nymphs drop to the ground near the roots of the trees, and take a vow of silence.
A vow of silence for the next thirteen years.
From the ground up and back down.
And in between...thirteen years of pent up conversation spills out into the night.
Millions of voices chirping out, notice me. Hey, me over here. You over there. Listen up. Hey, me over here. You over there. Listen up. Hey, me over here. You over there. Listen up.
I dug a hole and buried the little green cicada.
But not before I sang it a song. A new song. A different song.
From a member of its own family. A distant cousin. Well, technically not related, but I think they would be very good friends, because they both like to sing, and they both like to be heard, and they both are willing to listen, when they sing.
A Song For A Cicada From Her Friend the Katydid
And somewhere a little green cicada chirped.
And joined the conversation.
Elspeth Edelweiss took a vow of silence...
For thirteen years...