The noise has been going on for some time now, like a demented car alarm at a slight distance. Everyone said it was the much-anticipated 17-year cicadas but no matter how hard I looked, all I found was two or three empty shells and this racket. So where were they? Clearly not in my yard. Wondering how far their sound might carry, I turned to the Internet and discovered they could have been far away indeed: they produce sounds “up to 120 decibels… loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans at close range.” Also, the racket is called a song, and is made only by males, which disable their own hearing mechanism in order not to deafen themselves. How selfish. Though it did say that when they have attracted a female they switch to a “courtship song, generally quieter.”
That explained why I could hear but not see them, but why weren’t they here in my yard? Could it be my large number of birds, especially nesting pairs with babies to feed? In addition to the many birds casually passing through, I have robins, mourning doves, finches, wrens, and cardinals all raising nestfuls of voracious offspring. The robin is particularly canny, following me around as I weed, moving in on the turned-up worms and bugs as soon as I shift to a new spot.
Speaking of the ground, another possible wreaker of cicada havoc is the mole. Moles spend their lives underground, eating critters they find there. Could my mole have cleared out the cicada nymphs? As a lover of words and already deep in the internet, I looked up “mole.” In Middle English it was “moldwarp,” mold meaning soil and warp meaning throw. So, a soil-thrower. How cool that warp comes from throw. Warp speed, anyone?
Cicadas do not, as far as I know, eat tomatoes or damage tomato plants so I wasn’t worried, but I went and checked the tomato plants anyway. They’re coming along. It will be a while, but I can almost taste the bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches.
Finally, I saw a live cicada! It was not exactly moving at warp speed, but also not singing – so, likely a female. Doesn’t she have beautiful red eyes? I hope wherever the singing males are, she finds one she likes the sound of. I hope I’m here in seventeen more years, to listen to their progeny.