Volume 12, Issue 30 ~ July 22-28, 2004
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Bay Reflections

There Is a Season
The season of the periodic cicadas is over — for now.

by Al McKegg

I skated last week with Laura Nolan and Nicole Johnson as they ran the streets of our neighborhood, getting ready for next fall’s high school cross-country season. Nicole is a cicada baby. Brand-new in 1987, she couldn’t have been aware that Magicicada’s Brood X filled the neighborhood trees that summer.

To every thing, Turn, turn, turn

This summer, a beautiful 17-year-old, she heard her cicada clock’s first tick.

We spoke easily as they ran, with no competition from cicada song. No Magicicada cassini sounding like a farm sprinkler: tick … tick …tick …tick ..tick.ticktickticktick bzzzzz. No Magicicada septendecim drowning us out with War of the Worlds spaceship sounds. Just the bug and bird sounds of an ordinary July.

Nicole will be a senior next year. She and Laura talked about the changes she’ll face after graduation. Where will she be? College in a distant city? Work far away? Will they still see each other?

Nicole’s cicada clock will tick for the second time in 2021. In May and June of that year, Brood X will emerge, sing, mate and die, as it has for many thousands of years. Nicole’s wow-I’ll-be-a-senior stage will be long past; if fate is kind to her and to our race, she’ll be 34 years old. Where will she be then? What will she be then? A mother, a professional woman, someone loving and beloved? How will she have succeeded, for she surely will? How will she have failed, for just as surely she will? Will she be happy?

There is a season, Turn, turn, turn

And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

In cicada silence now, brown leaves hang from the tips of branches in neighborhood trees. Called “flagging” by biologists, it’s caused by the females’ egg-laying: They slit the bark of branch tips, then lay their eggs in the slit. This often kills the last foot or two of the branch — essentially a light pruning — but doesn’t harm the tree unless it’s very young and small.

Judging from the lack of flagging, some trees are clearly not favored by Magicicada. Sycamores and locusts are barely touched (or perhaps their branch tips just don’t die as easily.) Evergreens are virtually untouched. Maples, cherries, sassafras and black walnuts show a fair amount of flagging, but the queen tree of cicada reproduction is the oak. On some oaks, every branch tip is flagged. Close inspection shows multiple sets of serrations, as many as half a dozen sets of cicadas eggs on every tip.

A time to gain, a time to lose, A time to rend, a time to sew

From late May until late June, my morning routine — feeding the dog, taking out the trash, waiting at the bus stop with my daughter — was accompanied by cicada song. Each day, as the sun and the air temperature rose, so did the songs’ volume, the elemental din of life calling joyously to itself: Continue! Continue! Continue!

Now, in summer’s heat, there is cicada silence, but all across the pasture, at the woods edge, throughout the neighborhood, the oaks are festooned with promise.

Promise for the second tick of Nicole Johnson’s cicada clock and for every cicada baby. Promise for the children with wide brown eyes and blue ones and green and black. Promise for us all.

A time to love, a time to hate, A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

Lyrics from Ecclesiastes via Pete Seeger and The Byrds
© 1962 Melody Trails Inc. Used by permission

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.