I am writing this well into the move-in to my new place in East Nashville, where the locals have nearly finished digging our part of the city out from being completely covered with cicadas. The critters grow underground, and emerge as crawlies that shed their skins to become flying things –seemingly highly agile but mindless malfunctioning tiny helicopters with no flight plan but an audibly powerful drive to fly throughout all visible foliage and have one huge screaming brood-wide tree-top sex party. They’re not locusts, and it’s not a Biblical plague.
I have been around cicadas before; my papaw’s tree farm in rural North Central Louisiana was full of them, as were everybody else’s tree farms. As mentioned previously, they shed their skins (the video is paired with music from Enya, which just seems weird to me), and these harden to form little crunchy brown husks that can be used to decorate your shirt or hang on your earlobe. My memory of them includes trekking through the forest to see which cousin could first collect enough “locust shells” to full up a paper grocery bag. This was when we weren’t collecting Graveyard Grasshoppers (which is a completely different critter, so named due to the hundreds of them that migrated across my papaw’s property every day in part of the summer, seemingly originating from the graveyard on the adjacent church property (and captured by us because they were beloved by the bass in the ponds of the area)), riding 3-wheelers, or building forts out of fallen pine limbs and/or preparing for pine-cone battle.
But they have been everywhere here for the past seven or eight weeks, to the extent that you find yourself scanning sidewalks and doing the cicada dance to avoid stepping on them while batting the ones that are flying around you away. I have had several of them land on me, and had to remove a few of them from my car. Some people deal with being near a swarm of several hundred thousands of screaming flying one-inch bugs differently than others. I have found the whole thing somewhat amusing, but others are clearly freaked out by them. During a previous emergence when I lived in Huntsville, AL, a woman called 911 to get them to send the police to deal with the noise’ I found this out because they played the tape of it on the news and asked other citizens to not call 911 about the issue. This time around I have seen a number of hoodied youth pedestrians (very common where I live) get totally zipped up, pull their drawstrings tight, and either withdraw their arms totally from their sleeves or just run down the sidewalk waving their arms around, as if they bugs care about the flapping or not-flapping of human arms in any way. My car, though, is a testament to their presence. They are stuck all in my grill, and they are smeared across my windshield.
Somehow I have managed to keep the bugs out of both apartments while moving, but their hissing has been incessant during certain parts of the day for several weeks now. During its peak, I could actually hear it over the hum of the window-unit A/C that it seems I will have to run constantly in order to maintain normal body temperature in this old 2nd-floor apartment at this time of year. The noise they make is close to white noise (like the kind that little girl in Poltergeist used to watch after the local television station has concluded its broadcast day, played the National Anthem, and turned off the transmitter til tomorrow), droning and hypnotic, and they make it quite loudly. I haven’t kept up with the exact details on the dates of this emergence, but I can tell my sitting next to my window that we are nearly done with this brood. By this time of day last week, I couldn’t hear myself think at this window, and now I can hear the footsteps of the guy next-door as he walks through his grass.