You’re Bugging Me
I shy from bugs.
They flock to me.
At summer parties, I’m useful as bait. I keep mosquitoes from devouring friends attempting to enjoy a sultry summer night on the back patio. I brush and slap while they sit back and sip their Aperol spritzers. They acknowledge me as far better than the plate of stinky shrimp on the fence rail that my neighbor swears keeps them at bay. And cheaper.
Ultimately, my friends love me, as their personal bug zapper. Luckily I’ve made the acquaintance of a certain north woods pharmacist whose custom itch cream soothes my midnight frenzied scratching.
I don’t like bugs.
Yesterday was my birthday. No big deal. But the number is, well, getting up there.
A dear friend fed me a festive, early morning breakfast. I’m not quite sure it was meant to be a birthday treat, but she’s a gift – this woman. Birthday be damned, it was a celebration.
We dined on marigold-yolk eggs in the stippled light of her sun porch to the accompaniment of an unmistakable drone; a strange concerto floating across the yard. We both had only ever heard the raspy lilt, but had never seen a cicada.
We Googled. Mesh skeletal wings reminiscent of a dragonfly appeared; the body of a grasshopper morphing its way to a June bug. Bulging, wide, side-eyes of a fly. As insects go, not that attractive.
A praying mantis has a graceful stance. A dragonfly is luminescent in flight. Not this winged beetle-creature. But in the case of the cicada, it’s not about the package.
The first time I noted this unfamiliar, undulating noise, I peered out my porch screen looking for nearby construction. Lounging on a dusty futon, raw moaning chants rolled over me. Shrill chirps, whining grinds. A winged-beetle band performing jarring notes, in a bug-eyed. John Cage jam session. In seasons since, I eagerly tune in during the heavy days of summer when there is a gifted reprisal of this eerie entourage. The cicada chorale.
Later, I stood outside my garage culling through my mail of mostly circulars and solicitations. Bending down to retrieve a fallen envelope I saw the body of a strange elongated bug. I brushed it carefully with my shoe, taking its stillness for dead. But it began to whir and wheeze and flutter.
Thanks to my recent Google search I recognized it. A cicada! I slid an envelope under its belly and raised it to eye level for closer examination. The gridded wings ethereal yet unyielding flanked its body and its eyes properly bulged. Dazed, it stopped murmuring. I slid out my phone and snapped a few shots, then carefully laid it in the grass before texting my breakfast friend the photo to share this bit of serendipity.
The garage door rolled back to expose my mess. I’ve gradually been picking away at STUFF. Untidy piles of keep, throw, and give-away have been filling as I sift through it, deciding what and how to let go. Birthdays have a way of forcing you to mark time. Take stock. Choose. My gaze swept across the chaos, lurching past the urge to move a throw to the keep pile. The losing battle that kept my car from fitting in its proper parking spot.
As my hand reached for the close button, my eye landed on another oval black bug perched at the edge of the garage door. Quietly crouching on the threshold. What possessed me to look down? I could have killed it. There’s no question what lies here on its back wiggling its scrawny legs.
A second cicada.
Gently placing this second song-bug along the house, I move to the patio table before fanning out an assortment of envelopes. I opened a neon green one from my brother. Every year we exchange a bevy of sarcastic birthday cards, razing each other about getting older, going bald, forgetting things.
We’re not very close, but this we can do. Make Shoebox jokes about the inevitable circumstances of aging. I chuckle at the silly card, but wish for more than shallow sentiments. I’ve never had a sibling confidante. I’m round, he’s square. Venus, Mars.
Damn birthdays, and not-so-funny cards, and absent, indifferent brothers. Something landed on the discarded green envelope. I’m sharing my table now. With another cicada.
Birthdays have never been more to me than another tedious day. Still this past year has brought transition. The death of my father, loss of a job, discontent at the subtle limitations that aging brings, not to mention the cards my brother sends. Over the hill, crotchety, saggy, wrinkled. The humor is wearing thin as reality sets in.
Three cicadas. This is weird.
My birthday is on the third. I know absolutely nothing about numerology or nature symbolism. I hear the cicadas chant, the scrapey tune they send out through their bellies, grinding and wailing in such a twang that I could not concentrate. Until today I’d never seen one. Now in the span of three hours I’ve seen three. On the third.
Did you know the cicada can lay dormant for up to 17 years? After hatching from their cling in the crags of tree bark, newborns one moment let loose, tumble to the ground, enshroud themselves and begin feeding by a kind of osmosis.
All that waiting for the perfect time. For the exact moment when conditions are optimum for reemergence and survival.
Cicadas knowingly choose their time to be born. Purposefully lay buried, impotent upon the ground in earthly communion, until somewhere deep inside their creation signal sounds. The nascent cicada shakes off its slumber and slowly begins its vital tune.
When the restaurant I owned for twenty years closed, I was out of a job. Nothing but free time splayed out in front of me. I plunged head-long into a volunteer role to take a paid position. Full immersion again, I dove head first, regularly worked far more than 40-hours a week for little remuneration. But I believed I was sorely needed. At a time when I felt like a grand failure, it was essential that I felt needed.
Three years of 55-hour weeks bled me dry. I quit. Finally.
I got up late. My husband brought a thermos of coffee to my bed, gave me an iPad and keyboard so I could write. I took a class, joined a neighborhood group, babysat for friends, cleaned my basement and garage. I made lists, crossed off items daily, made more lists. I took my daughter shopping, had long coffee talks and lunches with friends. Despite this tangible inventory of skillful scratches, of projects done, I still felt adrift.
I was cocooning like the cicada. Gathering energy and substance while doing little or nothing of magnitude. Simply feeding on that which gives me strength. What a brilliant sense of timing, these funny bugs. What wisdom of inner knowing.
I used to snicker when anyone got woo with me. Read auras, messed with my chakras, gave me sage to smudge away my doldrums.
The bug, the music, the cosmos. It’s all a beautiful ballet whether I can wrap my head around the significance of the-three cicada sighting. Whether the Zen in a low insect whine is what gives rise to an old woman’s birthday musings.
There is a message to be found in the mystic rhythm of this quirk of nature.
Sometimes we must be laid prostrate on the ground in supplication. And wait. Patience brings knowing. Right timing will be illuminated.
Music, in crude and wild harmony, plays on.
–Kristin K., a wise 67, Lake Elmo, MN