Cicadas on a Train   Leave a comment

Cicadas on a Train

“ALL ABOARD” – dada-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-deedle-deedle-deedle-deedle-dada-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da………. thank you, Ozzie.

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As far back as I can remember, I have loved the sound of cicadas.  Every summer, high up in the canopy of the big oak trees around my grandmother’s house, the air came alive with their raspy buzz and the shrill “reeee-ur-reeee-ur-reeee” that undulated back and forth between the trees, as they advertised for a mate.

watercoloring in Tisolay's garden

watercoloring in Tisolay’s garden

That sound meant that school was out and I would get to be with my grandmother for the next 3 months in her garden, watercoloring, listening to Chopin or Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals from a microphone Tisolay’d had installed outside under the roof eaves, maybe drinking fresh lemonade with crushed ice from that old hand-crank affair on the kitchen wall . . .

Waiting for the Red Wing ice cream truck,  . . or maybe waiting in the tree outside for the Red Wing ice cream man  to come by,

Waiting for the Red Wing ice cream truck . . .

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. . . or maybe waiting in the tree outside for the Red Wing ice cream man  to come by . . .

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Owl’s Pussycat

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. . . or just lying in the warm grass, eyes closed, with the sun shining red through my eyelids while Tisolay cut fresh flowers and greenery for the house (and took pictures of me).

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Tisolay's swinging arm wasn't half bad!

Tisolay’s swinging arm wasn’t half bad!

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That sound meant the interesting swing that Tisolay found and put up in the big Crepe Myrtle.  It came with several kinds of seats that slipped on and off, and cross bars that could make a ladder to get up into the tree.  My favorite part was that I could then pull it up after me and pretend that no one could get to me.

My tree fort

My tree fort

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I think there was something about this that brought out a jealousy in my father, and one day, on one of his blind drunks, he came and cut the whole thing down.  I never knew about this until years later when Tisolay told me how badly it had broken her heart that he would do that to me.

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Later, when my grandparents’ house became a refuge from the horror that was my parents’ marriage and my mother’s resentment over motherhood, that sound meant safety.  Now that she’s gone and I yearn for her so, that sound just means her.

But in those early years of innocence, the sound of cicadas meant that it was time for us to go treasure hunting for their shells in the English ivy that grew so thickly up the trunk of the big hackberry tree out front.  I collected them, and kept them in my grandfather’s steam engine cigarette lighter next to his chair in the library.  The mound of coal was really just a lid for a cavity which was made, of course, for storing cicada shells.   Well into my college years, to Tisolay’s amusement, I made sure Granddaddy’s train lighter stayed full of cicada shells.

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Not long after, though, a freeze killed the big hackberry tree, and we never got around to finding another place to look for cicada shells, content enough to listen to our neighbors’ cicadas.

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Fast forward 20 years.  I started dating a man whose house lay beneath no fewer than 3 giant live oaks, and that first summer, I saw my beloved cicada shells again.  But everywhere!  And their singing was like Tisolay purring in my ear.   So I married him! 😉

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aaaaaDSCN1268

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Until last year, I had never seen a live cicada up close, only their shells.  I knew that nearly their whole 17 year life was spent underground; that only in their last weeks of life did they emerge, shed their skins and take wing up into the trees, where they mated and died soon after.  But still, with the thousands of cicada shells I’d found over the years, to never once find one with its bug still in it seemed strange.  Then last year, in our garden, there he was, my first, sitting eye to eye with me in a trumpet flower bush.  He sat for hours without moving, well into the night, as though he were waiting for something.  Was he about to shed his skin?  I watched him for hours to see, and checked a couple of times through the night, but the next morning, when I came poking around with my camera again, he just flew away.

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So this past summer (’13), I set about trying to find a cicada emerging from his shell, and, paying closer attention than I ever had, I began to see signs.  Evenly-shaped, round holes began to appear in the ground and between the bricks in the patio under our big oak.  Once, to my horror, I stepped on one of the poor little guys as he was walking across the patio, having just emerged from between two bricks.  One of Tisolay’s little winged angels… I felt so horrible, and couldn’t take another step in the garden for weeks without looking where every step was about to fall.

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But I didn’t see another one for weeks.  Finally it occurred to me that maybe all the action happened at night, so one night, I went outside with a flashlight around midnight, and stayed until 2, looking under every elephant ear, their favorite place to molt.  Bingo… and a spare.

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They stayed put for about 12 hours, letting their wings harden and dry, and then flew off to make their wonderful racket in the trees.

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Both of them were fully out of their shells by the time I found them, though, so I still had not seen the molt in progress.  Then, one day, I was hosing off grass clipping and saw in the clippings a cicada grub who must have just emerged from the ground, then gotten washed into the grass pile.  I scooped him up in a tupperware, put some wet mud over him, and kept him on the patio.  Sure enough, after sundown, I looked into the mud and saw an even round hole up from the bottom where he had come out.  He was only a few feet away, crawling slowly toward the elephant ears.  Not wanting to risk losing him,  I picked him up and put him on an elephant ear stalk.  He seemed quite content with the spot I’d picked for him, and stayed put.  I had no idea how beautiful their pastel colors were when they first came out.

A good spot

A good spot

All full of mud when he started, he came out a clean, sort of pearlized pastel, with little nubs where his wings were rolled up tight and folded over in half.  Big droplets of water came out with him to smooth the squeeze out

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When his wings were done unfolding, they were the most beautiful color of aquamarine.

Such brilliant

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Almost dry

Now go make babies, and I’ll see them in 17 years.

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So glad to have this lovely world for your last chapter of life.

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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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Another one, already mated and ready to die, let me say hello.  Stayed on my headrest for hours.  Thank you, little one, for your song, for being Tisolay’s messenger.

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