A lot of us are feeling a lot of anticipation right now—for those who have not yet been jabbed it’s the anticipation of that jab and how your body will react to it (my first Moderna shot elicited a slight headache and the second some pretty bad fatigue and muscle aches for about 10 hours, but so worth it), the semi-jabbed anticipate the next jab, and the fully-jabbed anticipate returning to the larger world.
I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends, and resuming the things that bring me joy: volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter, singing with my choir, doing Church Lady things with the St. Mary’s Guild at church, wandering Costco, seeing a movie in a theater, eating a hot meal I didn’t cook and having all the plates taken away for someone else to wash.
I am anticipating these things in the context of the awfulness of our current society: the continued fallout of a violent insurrection, almost daily mass shootings, police officers STILL FORKING KILLING Black people. I’m an anxious person to begin with, and none of those things are balm for a worrywart like me.
But the thing I am anticipating the most right now is a fairly rare and quite delightful experience: the return of Brood X, the largest and most populous periodic cicada emergence. I have been part of a Mid-Atlantic weather community for 15+ years and in addition to tracking spring storms, we are also tracking the emergence of these amazing insects. That’s the magnitude of this event.
I grew up in New England so I didn’t experience this surreal phenomenon until I moved to DC. In 2004 I lived in a prime neighborhood for cicadas with established tree-lined streets and a large wilderness park just a few blocks away. And even better, the small building I lived in had a giant Japanese maple tree right in front of my windows. As the nymphs came out of the ground to shed their skins, grow wings, and fly away I could see them on my window screens. The noise in my neighborhood was deafening and that tree was absolutely covered with cicadas.
Here’s the thing: I am not a fan of bugs. I like pollinators, praying mantises, katydids, and I catch inside spiders and take them outside (or at least I did before we got our cat Rey because she is always at war with spiders and she always wins), but the rest of the insect world can go pound sand. I was excited to experience Brood X but I was also quietly terrified. All those bugs! In the air! On the ground! Would they hurt me (no)?
As it turns out, cicadas are harmless and bumbling. I would even say they are charming. You’ll see the newly emerged ones rocking upside down on the street. (I used to turn them right side up as I headed to my bus stop. I couldn’t help myself.) They are flying doofuses with no capability to hurt you. Our cats are absolutely obsessed with bugs, to the point that last summer the aforementioned Rey got stung by a potter’s wasp she was annoying and she continues to annoy them still, so I imagine they are going to go nuts in a few weeks.
One of the best things about Brood X is that there are different cicadas that emerge, each with its own song and each with specific mating calls. So while it is loud, it’s also a whole boatload of loud. One of the cool songs is the “pharaoh” song:
Another group sings a frying pan/lawn sprinkler sound (I think this is a mating call) :
And my favorite sound, and the one that inspired the title of this post, is a high-pitched alien spaceship song—you’ll have to listen for it in the background, but once you hear it, you’ll know it:
It seems unusually early, as the cicadas didn’t emerge en masse in 2004 until May, but there are already reports of some early birds up and singing in the trees in the DC metro area. They will pay for their temporal mistake as they will be gobbled up by eager prey. In the meantime I watch for emergence holes in the yard and listen for first song of the swarm. I really can’t wait for it to begin.