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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Sometime last week Ralph and I finished watching From (before our MGM trial expired, thank you very much). It was about what I expected, meaning nothing at all continued to happen. Toward the end there was a whole thing with evil cicadas or maybe just cicadas controlled by evil things. I’m really not a fan of things that happen with insects, but in this case I found myself feeling sorry for the cicadas.

What had they ever done to deserve this role? Why was such an interesting insect being so maligned?

I’m not a fan of insects in general, except perhaps for butterflies and ladybugs, and bees are good as long as they’re doing their flower thing and staying out of my glass of iced tea. Otherwise, while I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of bugs, I will squeal and flail a lot if they get on or near me.

So it might surprise you to know that I have a bit of a soft spot for cicadas. Part of the reason that I appreciate them is because they don’t actually want to be anywhere on or near me. They want to be in their trees making little cicada babies, not buzzing around my face or landing on my laptop keyboard.

I have only ever seen a live cicada once. Most often I’ve seen the skins they’ve shed, but one summer right here in Franklin, right on my balcony, sat a very live, very large cicada.

I was going to sit outside for a bit, and opened the door to see this brownish-lumpish-roundish thing sitting there. It was so big that for a moment I thought it was a frog. I wondered how on earth a frog had gotten onto my third floor balcony.

But then I realized what it was and squealed and ran inside and shut the door and didn’t go back out for about a month.

Still, cicadas are one of my favorite parts of summer. Not seeing them, but listening to them. This may also surprise you, given what you know about my tolerance for noise. But I like natural sounds like running water and wind, thunderstorms and birds, crickets and cicadas.

Only male cicadas serenade. At their loudest they can reach 100 decibels, which is as loud as a lawnmower. Imagine thousands of tiny lawnmowers all calling into the summer afternoon, for the sole purpose of finding little lawnmower mates to make many lawnmower babies.

Number of eggs a female can lay: 600.

That’s a lot of lawnmowers.

Perhaps one of the coolest things about cicadas is that some of them are on a very strict schedule. They live underground for the vast majority of their lives and only come out to mate. And they only do it every 13 or 17 years depending on the species.

Different broods emerge on different cycles so you’re bound to see… hear… them during any given summer.

Other superb fun fact? They only come out when the ground temperature is precisely 64 degrees. Not one degree more. Not one degree less.

Nobody knows how they do this.

For a long time before I even knew the word cicada, I would listen to their singing and feel safe. That sounds like a weird thing to say about a bug mating call, but the sound is associated in my mind with warm summer days – the kind with nothing much to do, when the world was all mine for a little while. It was like their singing built a little protective bubble of summer around me and I could simply float in the arms of the sun and listen. The fact that I never saw any of these mystery bugs was both a relief and an intrigue. I figured they were just shy kindred spirits.

They don’t bite or sting, they don’t eat your plants or wreck your trees. They just provide the musical accompaniment to your languid summer days until the crickets pick up the symphony at night.

In other news, the internet is full of cicada recipes. True. Look it up. Or do yourself a favor and don’t. Apparently, they taste like canned asparagus, which is something I wouldn’t eat any more than I’d eat a cicada.

I guess technically it’s not that much different than eating a lobster. So maybe if someone deep fried them and drenched them in butter I’d be willing to try one. I’ve eaten bugs before – once, in a Korean restaurant, because we were with people far more enlightened than I, and a bowl of some crispy sort of bug snack showed up in front of me. They might have been crickets. I don’t remember, or I blocked it out.

Let’s just say there are a lot of things to eat in the world, so I’m fine passing up the bugs. But if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, now you know you can sustain yourself on Queen Anne’s Lace and cicadas.

In the meantime, I will listen to their sweet lawnmower singing and be content.

Photo: I didn’t get close enough to photograph the one cicada I saw, so you’ll have to settle for the trees where they live.