We just received a rare visit by the 17-year “locusts” or, more properly, cicadas. Many people hate their loud, insistent whirring in the trees—and their thumb-sized winged bodies everywhere. I love them. I think they’re beautiful, and love their summer music.
Partly, I know I’m fascinated with them because of their long years underground, and too-brief escape into the air and sunshine. I search the bushes for their shed husks, and sit outside to listen to their music.
Because they emerge in colonies, some areas have them in the thousands—and other places right next door have none. This time, we had more than a few, but they weren’t overwhelming. For less than a week, they sang to me, and then, they were gone. But a few areas near us, with later emergences, still had a few. When my dog, Elvis, and I walked the trail, we heard them in the woods beside us.
I hadn’t heard any cicada music in a week, but one day, when we went to a different trail section, a handful of survivors called from the trees. The trail was littered with hundreds of spent bodies, but because they were spread over miles of trail, it didn’t really seem like so many. They were scattered like punctuation across a page—one here, one over there.
Soon, we came upon one still alive on the packed ground, legs moving helplessly in the air. Though I knew he was dying, I hated to see him smashed by a speeding bicycle.
We stopped, and I put down a gentle finger, and instantly, he hooked on. I carried him to the edge, where he could expire peacefully, but he didn’t want to let go. I tried moving him to a smooth leaf, some soft grass, a rough wooden fencepost, a firm patch of earth. He preferred my hand.
But when I did finally install him in a safe spot of weeds, I soon came upon another. He, like his cousin, preferred human skin. Eventually, I rescued about a half-dozen—the only survivors left on the trail surface. As they clung to me, they seemed surprisingly vigorous. The last one even made a long, steep, and heroic hike up to my neck before I dislodged him.
I wondered if the secure feeling they got, being attached to me, was why they hung on. I felt bad, knowing I wasn’t really rescuing them. All were in their final moments of their brief aboveground lives. Did they know what was happening to them, I wondered.
Maybe I feel such empathy for these little guys, because I’ve also just reemerged after about 17 years “underground.” After publishing my first three novels, and selling a fourth, in the late 90s, I let life get the better of my fiction writing, and turned to publishing short nonfiction articles. Though I still wrote novels, they—like the cicadas—weren’t seeing the light of day. I’ve enjoyed writing the personal experience—such as those in Chicken Soup for the Soul books—stories that have brought me close to many of my readers. But now, my novels have come back to the surface, and I want them to have their fruitful time in the light and the sunshine.
The Bible says in the Book of Joel, “I will repay you for the years the locust has eaten….” It promises when we turn back to the path where we belong, God will redeem our “lost” period of wandering.
Although many years will go by before I see and hear the cicadas again, I hope I’m still around to get reacquainted. Their lives up here may be fleeting, but they have purpose. I know, too, my own earthly life is scarcely more than an eye-blink in the face of eternity. But I hope, in its own way, it will also ultimately have purpose and beauty.