I live in California now, but I grew up on Prytania, in Hamilton, Ohio. When you grow up in a place like Hamilton, you grow up with cicadas. What? You don’t know what a cicada is? Oh, well then, allow me to educate you. A cicada is an insect, a big stubby-looking flying insect with big orange eyes, (many are red), and a mouth that doesn’t bite. It makes a huge constant racket over 100 decibels in its quest to attract mates and oh, it lives underground for 17 years. Some of them live underground for 13 years but they all live on or near tree roots until it’s time to come up from the ground, only to mate. When they do come up from their underground roots, they arrive in ‘broods’ of thousands, sometimes millions. They don’t bite or eat, they only suck tree sap. If they land on you, just flick it off – it’s stupid, it just thinks you’re a tree.
I swear I’m not making this up.
YouTube of cicada sound
The first time I got to know cicadas was as a young boy, circa ( or should I say “circada” yuk, yuk) 1966. I didn’t really know what they were called back then. All I really knew was that for a couple of summers there were hundreds and hundreds of really loud insects all over the place. They aren’t the brightest little guys either, seemingly flying all over the place without a plan. Many times I can remember their bumping into one of us. I also remember they would leave their shells, clinging to the tree bark. I don’t know if we associated the shells with the bugs when I was a kid. I don’t think I learned this until much later.
My most vivid memory though of the ’66 brood has to be that of watching our cat chasing them around the yard. Whenever she caught one, the cicada would make an even louder clapping noise, that is until the cat ate it. Occasionally she’d catch one simply to play with it. And like our cat, playing with the life of the cicada, so too did a school bus play with mine that year (link). Unlike the cicada, I was released…allowed to see another rising brood.
Like the cicada who is reborn as a larva underground, my parents moved away from my elementary school district soon and I was forced to go through a rebirth. Anyone who’s ever had to move as a child to a new school surely can relate. It takes a good year or two to get your new wings. (I wrote about that in this story – link).
The next emergence of a very large brood of cicadas occurred around 1983. A couple of years earlier I had just finished up with a correspondence school degree in Accounting. Anyone who’s ever gotten their Associates degree in Accounting knows that it doesn’t qualify one for very much, maybe a clerking role. There’s nothing wrong with clerking. I started as a clerk in my foundry role, but I aspired for more. Luckily my correspondence work was transferable to the local university evening college. So in ’83 I was just beginning, working hard to mold myself into someone new.
The cicadas had come out in very strong force. My strongest memories from this year, (as it pertains to orange-eyes), are twofold. The first recollection has to do with transportation. I was a nighttime commuter, having to drive from Hamilton to the Cincinnati campus 2-3 nights per week and then sometimes on weekends. I drove a 1981 Toyota Tercel, silver without air conditioning. It was great on gas mileage but without A/C, I had to drive with the windows down. I never really minded this very much until the early evening I once drove through a small swarm and ended up with maybe 20 of the little bastards in my car, all bouncing around inside against the windows and against me!
I don’t know how I didn’t crash and kill myself, but if you read this recent story, (link), then you know I’m not destined to die in a car crash. Instinctively I knew those little guys wouldn’t bite me so I didn’t freak out, but quickly found a place to pull over. I think it took me a good five minutes to get all of those guys out of my car. It was very hot and humid that night, but I had to roll up the windows, grin and bear it.
The other vivid memory was towards the end of summer. It was early, still very light outside. I had parked in the evening college parking lot and was making my way to a class. Very thick, there must have been close to a million cicadas buzzing all over the place. Students were running here and there across the small park in between the buildings, all in a mad dash. Women were screaming, especially those who’d get a cicada landing in her hair. I had to stop just to watch it for a minute or two as I knew I might never get another chance like this one. I have a great memory of watching, from perhaps 100 yards away, a young lady getting several bugs at once on her and her friend trying to swat them off, meanwhile more of the creatures were landing on the second lady. Both of them started screaming in unison, running towards their classrooms while trying to brush wildly at their hair. It was actually quite funny – just part of living in Cicadaland.
We all got through these couple of years with these large broods. I say ‘couple of years’ because with every brood, there are always what are called “stragglers” so usually the year before and the year after each large brood year, we would see another fairly decent sized batch. My UC (University of Cincinnati) years were transformation years for me. My wife and I had our first two children those years, I was helping to lead a foundry through very tough times and I was about to begin a new and exciting phase of my working career with P&G.
A lot happened in our lives in between this brood and the brood of 2000. My wife and I both graduated from our studies, we had all of our three children born during this larva phase, we moved our residence three times, I had completed a Masters program and two certifications as well as changing my functional profession 5 times!
The brood of 2000 brought change for our oldest boy as he graduated from Miami University that year. The day of graduation in Oxford, Ohio was not unlike any other early summer day; warm and filled with the loud buzzing of mating cicadas. That year I had made a tough decision to move into IT at work where there was a very challenging issue I felt only I could fix. It was a move that perhaps cost me internal professional support, but it paid off in spades in terms of gratification from all the successes I got to experience in that role. Like the cicada, much of my P&G career was spent in metamorphosis.
Cicada Mania link
And here we are readers. There are quite a number of websites on the topic of cicadas and they all seem to call out different years and different specific geographies for the emergence of the next 13 and 17 year broods. According to my non scientific calculations, there should be a big brood next year in 2016 or the year after. I just accepted a retirement from P&G last year and now am trying to figure out what this next metamorphosis will look like. Will I be underground before the next brood or will I get to celebrate my 4th birthday?