A high-pitched chattering buzz progresses from a series of wavelike crescendos to a constant ear-splitting drone during June of 1956. The seventeen-year locust has emerged and announced itself in a competitive orchestral shouting match in the trees overhead. It is the summer before my second birthday. I am unaware of the noise or have tuned it out. I do not remember the event.
I walk home from class at the end of my freshman year of college. The sidewalks are littered with the crisp remains of millions of red-eyed cicadas. I cannot avoid stepping on them, with the accompanying spine-tingling crunch. They fly from tree to tree and from tree to ground, increasing in number as the days warm and lengthen. I am nineteen and aware of the interesting nature of this outbreak. I save one expired bug in a cotton-filled display box and label it with the year.
It is my son’s second summer. It occurs to me that his life is on the same cycle as mine relative to a clock that ticks in seventeen-year increments. He will be nineteen and in college the next time the locusts swarm. For now, my wife and I watch together out a second floor window and record the event on videotape. A second fragile bug is added to the display box and labeled 1990. I decide to add another one to the collection if I can remember to do so, in the unimaginably futuristic year of 2007. I am thirty-six years old.
This year’s emergence has become a much-anticipated family event, mostly because I’ve been telling them about it for several years. The media has whipped up a frenzy of coverage, resulting in numerous conversations among adults and children of all ages. My daughter conquers her fear of insects and becomes a semi-celebrity among the younger children on our street. Cicadas have become an ingredient in a variety of recipes. I collect a number of bugs in various stages of development, mounting them in a new and improved display case alongside two generations of ancestors. I label the box and hang it on the wall. I am fifty-two. I videotape the larval stage of the emergence and edit the footage on my computer. (see my video posted below.) I try not to think about the next time I will greet these creatures, and that it will most likely be my last.