Stop, listen, what’s that sound?

By now, many of you have already discovered the unique pleasures of the emergence of Brood XIX.

For about the last month, the 13-year cicada has been coming up out of the soil to sing its song, do its thing, die off and come back in another 13 years. By around July 4, it’ll be over.

This photo is a public service for those who are curious but too scared to get close.

If you want to learn more about this phenomenon, there are amazing videos, photos, news stories and even fan websites dedicated to the topic. This red-eyed, 13-year variety is getting so much attention that I’m sure the run-of-the-mill annual cicadas are becoming a little jealous. Maybe they need a better publicity stunt.

I’m no naturalist, but cicadas are one of the more intriguing bugs in the Southern landscape. I remember as a kid growing up in north central Texas that the sound of the male’s mating call and the appearance of their brown exoskeletons were part of the summer backdrop.

Frankly, they creep me out.

I know, I know, I’ve read all the stuff about how harmless they are. But if you’ve ever stepped on one during a pre-dawn run, you know the adrenaline rush of what I call “suburban IEDs.”

There are even recipes on how to eat the critters. Not since a trip to Thailand in 2005 have I seen anything so simultaneously fascinating and revolting. I might be able to eat small crunchy bugs, but some of these guys are up to an inch-and-a-half long. And what if it started buzzing when you took a bite? Ewwwwww. One ice cream shop in Columbia, Mo., even sold cicada ice cream, until the health department shut it down.

Part of what makes the 13-year cycle so amazing is the shear numbers.

I think it says something about contemporary Southerners that we can still be fascinated by natural phenomena. Our agricultural heritage has connected us to nature in ways that have formed a harmony with natural cycles and the seasons.   Somewhere between the Olympics and the appearance of Haley’s Comet, the arrival of this special cicada is rare enough that we forget how loud and ubiquitous it can be in between outbreaks. It’s a ripe moment for the great Southern storytellers to step in and help fill the gap in collective memory.

Maybe that’s why the Southerner and the 13-year cicada are an easy fit. From Texas to South Carolina, Florida to Maryland, there are bound to be plenty of folks this year who 13 years from now will be able to say: “Aw, this is nothin’. You should have seen the cicadas we had back in 2011. Now that was a brood.”

If you have any sense at all, you’ll go out right now, find one, take pictures of it, make a video, pet it, listen to it, maybe even eat it. Then just sit back and wait 13 years. You’ll have plenty of time to hone and perfect your story, complete with embellishments.

“One morning during my run, I stepped on a cicada so big it blew a hole in my shoe.”

One thought on “Stop, listen, what’s that sound?

  1. Lance,
    This was fun to read.

    Two of the stories I will tell in 13 years involve being serenaded by the cicadas during my first year of planting and hoeing weeds at Healing Springs Acres, and standing for about 30 minutes one morning as I talked with one of my old-timer mentors by his chicken pen. As we talked we picked the bugs off the nearby limbs and threw them over the fence for the chickens to scurry after. The chickens LOVED them!

    Oh, they also make quite a crunchy, splatty THWACK sound on a motorcycle helmet at highway speeds — not to mention how effectively they can raise a whelp on an upper lip if they miss the helmet…


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