Sunflower Mandala

Good Vibrations

It ain’t summer until the fat bug Oms

For me, summer doesn’t truly arrive until the cicadas do. I don’t mean the deluxe 17-year models that were feted, photographed, and feared back in May. I’m talking about the annual no-frills bugs that emerge from their underground nursery in the dog days of summer and hold their buzzy kirtan in the treetops, proving that mere insects easily best humans in the art of call and repeat. 

Caught up in the hype, my husband and I had waited for the 17-year cicadas to appear in Yonkers. As they emerged along the East Coast, billions strong, we heard tales of terror and woe from friends in New Jersey. Swarms of cicadas were scaling fences and houses like the zombies in World War Z. Rogue cicadas got into homes, grossing out the humans but delighting pet dogs and cats. Mike and I joked that we might need to don pith helmets just to gather lettuce from the garden, and pull on boots to wade through the mounds of crunchy cicada carcasses that were shown all over the Internet. But the onslaught never arrived. 

Harmless cicadas, or a zombie hoard?

Out first cicada sighting–or, rather, cicada hearing–came on the last day in May at Mohonk Mountain House near New Paltz. We were on an early morning guided nature hike, and Mike noticed a distant but deep whirring sound. It didn’t sound quite like the familiar cicada crescendo, but Mike was sure it was the bugs. No, that was a motor sound, one hiker said. Even the naturalist  leading our group thought the sound was mechanical–maybe from a construction site, he suggested. But when we found a cicada carcass, we were  certain: the 17-year cicadas were here.

As a child, I thought the cicada’s song was made by birds that came to Queens every August. While walking in Ozone Park one day with a friend, a creature zipped over our heads, making the familiar buzz. It wasn’t a bird, we realized: it was huge bug! That flew! We did the logical thing–ran for it. After that, I was afraid of cicadas for a time, even after learning that they did not bite or sting. One summer a cicada emerged from a hedge at eye level, flying awkwardly and seemingly at me, increasing my fear. What if one landed in my big Queens hair and buzzed around in there?

But despite being grossed out by the cicada’s looks, I continued to savor their sound. There was nothing else quite like that increasingly loud, vibrating hum; it was a seasonal hymn sung only in summer, a harbinger of slow, lazy days and jaunts to Rockaway Beach. One day (I think I was in my twenties by then), I came across a dying cicada on the sidewalk, ants already scuttling around its chunky dark body and glistening wings. Sickened, I toed the cicada away from the ants, squashing some in the process. I couldn’t stand the idea of ants swarming over the body of a childhood foe that had become a familiar friend. 

Earlier this month, I was in my kitchen when I thought I heard a cicada. I alerted Mike, and we listened together, waiting. It was just one hum, low and distant, but we were certain that the annual cicadas has surfaced in Yonkers. Within a week, their song was in full bloom, even as our garden began to wilt from the heat. Now I delight in the full-throttled cicada chorus every morning and the soothing serenade in evening. To me, the big bugs’ buzzy hum, like the familiar chant of  Om, resonates with the tune of the universe, rich in beauty and mystery. 

Cicada photo: © David Lloyd | Dreamstime.com



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