In Virginia, we are being visited by the 17-year cicadas, which have been living underground and slowly maturing since hatching in 1996. They're surfacing now to mate aboveground, and their time in the sunlight will be brief. The females will lay eggs in the trees and when the eggs hatch, the nymphs will descend the tree and burrow into the ground where they'll live until they're ready to mate--in 2030.
Spring 1996. I emerged from a long, snowy winter marked by sleep deprivation and the unrelenting cries of a colicky baby. My son has finally begun sleeping through the night, he's learned to crawl, and I've returned to working part-time for a public relations firm.
I don't remember noticing the cicadas that year, but I can still visualize my son scrambling across the kitchen floor with our two old dogs, racing to the back door to greet daddy, home from work.
May 2013. The cicadas are everywhere. Hanging on windows, door frames, and leaves. Spastically flying. Shedding their waxy shells. Buzzing and calling and looking for mates, their bulging red eyes looking desperate and alien, their exoskeletons littering the woods, the driveway, the street.
My son is now 17. Last Friday he shaved the dense forest of his auburn beard and had his long blonde hair buzzed high and tight, shedding the exoskeleton of his teenage years on the salon floor and allowing the man inside to fully emerge.
He loves military history and math and wants to study engineering. He knows how to break down and rebuild car engines, just like his dad. In the last few years, they have backpacked well over a hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail and driven all over pursuing eBay and Craig's List leads on cars, parts, and motorcycles.
I sit in the garden with my retired ovaries and a daughter in full bloom and think about what I need to shed to fully mature. What will be left when the world I've known for 17 years ends?
My dog, my constant companion, is obsessed with cicadas. On our daily walks, he pulls me from carcass to carcass, devouring them with obvious delight. He can't believe his good fortune! His life is perfect! He greets every day with enthusiasm.
He doesn't know the cicadas will soon be gone, and when they return in 17 years, he will be gone too. I shiver at the thought.
2030. Will the words I'm writing here still exist? Will I be strong enough to walk for miles among the cicadas? Will I have a leash in my hand and a dog bowl on the kitchen floor? A husband in my bed? A son and a daughter in full bloom? Photos of grandbabies tacked to the refrigerator?
I consider those questions as I sit next to our garden pond and witness a gigantic frog hop up and snap a cicada into its mouth. Just. Like. That.
The koi glide to the surface and pull the cicadas under when they flail in the water.
The cats pounce on them in the shadow of the azaleas.
Cars crush them.
People smash them and sweep them away with brooms.
Despite the carnage, a chorus of cicada survivors send out a cacophony of calls, looking for mates: they don't want to die alone.
They are unrelenting in their desire to fully complete their lifecycle, humming with anticipation and desire.
The rise and fall of their whirring determination, the brevity of their time in the sun, the uncertainty saturating every moment of every day is their music. Their song.
Life is short, and they refuse to stop singing until it's over.
(Post and images copyright 2013 Veronica McCabe Deschambault. Do not copy, paste, or steal.)