Just because something happens rarely doesn’t mean that I care to see it. A total eclipse? Perfect time to take a nap. Halley’s Comet? Missed it in 1986 — I think I had a term paper due. Maybe I’ll catch it 2061. Whatever.
The every-17-years emergence of the cicadas, however, is something I want to see.
All along the East Coast, what is known as Brood II — also an excellent video game, I’m told — is rising from the Earth.
Big, crunchy, noisy, scary-looking bugs who have spent 17 years quietly sucking on tree roots underground will wait till the dirt reaches 64 degrees, then creep to the surface and sprout wings. Thirty billion or more of them.
Then the world as we know will face its doom, and we will be forced to bow down to our insect overlords.
No? Actually, the cicadas are harmless. They don’t bite, they don’t sting, they don’t make you itch or steal your picnic food. They won’t damage your crops or even crawl into your ear and control your brain.
They’re even quite tasty, according to household pets, birds, small mammals and a number of humans who have published their recipes for cicada ice cream, souffles, pies, pasta, pizza, sushi and deep-fried nuggets. Look them up.
For a few short weeks, the insects will fly, they will sing, they will mate, then they will die. It’s a gloriously odd cycle of life and one that I desperately want to observe.
I missed out on the vast herds of buffalo roaming the plains. Missed out on the vast flocks of passenger pigeons darkening the skies. I’ve never seen a plague of locusts, never experienced an invasion of army ants, never observed a swarm of killer bees. Found a colony of bed bugs in a Detroit motel once, but really, it’s not the same.
Alas, we are likely to miss the outbreak of cicadas.
While the 1½-inch bugs are awakening in the South and beginning to poke their heads out on Staten Island and in southern New York, Brood II doesn’t have reservations for the North Country.
Et tu cicada?
They will deliver their melodic cacophony — at times reaching 100 decibels — for thousands of miles, from Georgia to Connecticut, but they won’t travel another 150 miles or so up the Northway? Is it the lack of cell-phone reception?
I will be denied the joy of watching my dog bouncing around the backyard gorging herself on brave insects — insects that, rather than hide from predators, boldly scream as loud as they can, announcing their presence. I will be denied the satisfaction of placing a platter of cicada chip cookies in front of my sons and seeing their expressions.
I will be denied the ear-piercing background sound that could make sleep impossible. I will be denied the thrill of walking barefoot on a moving carpet of bugs.
It’s not fair. Hey, bugs, we’ve got more trees than Staten Island. Lots of places for your young to feed while they wait to grow to adulthood. Sure, the ground is a little colder, but it’s going to warm up to 64 degrees any day now. Almost certainly by July. Try it out.
I know that I can go visit the cicada outbreaks; some people plan vacations around the event. It’s not the same as having them in your own backyard, though.
I’ve got a plan. Who wants to chip in and charter a bus? We’ll send a driver down to somewhere warm, like North Jersey, and fill up on cicadas. Should be able to fit two or three million on a good-sized bus, if they don’t have luggage. We’d best give the driver a good tip.
He can bring the cicadas up here to live out their lives and plant their eggs. Then in 2030, bang, we’ll be part of the experience.
It will be glorious.
Email Steve Ouellette:firstname.lastname@example.org