I celebrated my birthday this week by taking a few days off from work and to pick up my free pass to NJ State Parks given to those who have reached a certain unnamed milestone. After months of sporadic reporting in my notebook and wondering if maybe my interest in writing had disappeared, oh well, I am relieved to see the writer resurrecting. It always happens this way, the desire to write looms like a birthday present longed-for but never mentioned, the wrapped box gathering dust in the corner is for me, after all, and inside I find my notebooks and pens intact, as well as my way back home.

And look, here…the wing of a cicada that somehow appeared on our kitchen floor, probably tracked in from the driveway by a dog’s paw or a wet shoe. Its sudden and perfect appearance brings tears to my eyes, a symptom that a gift is at hand, an insight waiting to emerge.
Perhaps you have heard of the mass emergence of the Brood 2 Cicadas in the northeast, a phenomenon that happens in 17-year intervals.  I have been waiting impatiently for them during this cool spring until the ground warmed enough to flip the switch that signaled the time to rise was at hand. After 17 years of crawling underground, driven by their genetic desire to climb upward and pull themselves from the confines of what they have always known themselves to be, and not being able to anticipate who or what they will become, fly. I don’t imagine, if you could have a conversation with one of them, they would have been able to guess that after 17 years of snow and ice storms, brutal heat, the pounding of the feet of a thousand hikers, superstorm hurricanes, after 6,205 circadian cycles of days and nights of creeping through the dark earth, they would one day spin into the sun?

I have been visiting a concentration of them several miles from home for the past several weekends, stopping occasionally on my way to work to watch them careening from shrubs to saplings to the tall oaks, looking like rush hour at Grand Central Station, everyone zooming in all directions and occasionally bumping into each other. Still others crawl along the ground. As I watched, a creeping cicada tried to climb a patch of grass but the thin blades collapsed under even this fragile weight. Eternity can weigh heavily at times.  At others, it flies away.

It stumbled toward me, halted before my foot and hesitated and then, orange eyes popping and front legs spinning, hoisted itself over the smooth toe of my shoe to stop again on top of the criss-cross pattern of my shoelaces, a sneaker fascinator. I stood still; what else can you do when a piece of the Universe trusts you this much to do no harm? When its instinct to climb kicked-in and it headed up my shin as if I were a denim tree trunk, I interceded, and gently placed it on a slender branch in the shade where it crawled forward and stopped behind another of its kind.

I didn’t go on these visits just to see them, but to feel the sound of them, from the individual whirrrrrr-o of a single insect to the orchestral hum of an entire cicada chorus. Their soprano drone entered my ears, my skin, my hair, my belly, my spine. It was, is, the call of the wild geese flying home again, the roar of the Howler monkeys in a jungle, the thin peep of frogs after the snow melts, an elk’s bugle. It calls out to the place in me that is beyond reason or doubt or possession, it summons a pulse of life that has not forgotten what it is to live without words.

I am tempted to tape this wing to the page as the unspoken miracle, a witness to life, how it evolved from the egg 17 years ago, to being part of the cellular structure of the crawling nymph, to responding to the trigger that said, It’s time to grow wings now. It’s time to leave this earth behind, this nurturing and familiar darkness, the roots that fed you, you are ready for your brief magnificence. The wing has already released itself from its purpose (though in this case, it may have been helped along by a hungry sparrow). But I will loft it into the air, a cellophane whisper that does not belong locked in a notebook but back to its invisible anonymity to return to life in all its forms. 

I am not alone in my cicada passion. Watch Return of the Cicadas by Samuel Orr. See if this miracle speaks to you too.

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  1. Wonderful, as usual — welcome back to the ministry of reflection and writing. Love your stuff! cc+

  2. So glad you are back writing again. Your pictures are wonderful. I'm amazed by these insects and you've put their lives in a thoughtful perspective. I haven't seen even one up here yet but I'm hoping to.

  3. We've missed you, Diane! Love this – please keep writing. I'll think of you now as I listen to the cicadas munching and singing in my woods.

  4. Oh and Happy Belated Birthday!

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