It’s way past the time that we would have seen baby foxes romping and rolling in the sun, mean old mama vixens slapping the little woolies to keep them in line.
We thought the foxes liked us. We even treated them for mange—or at least we tried to. We could never be sure if the foxes got all the food laced with Ivermectin, but we’re certain you won’t see any mangy raccoons around these parts. The only dish we’ve found that the raccoons don’t like is scalloped potatoes.
Lest we feel too neglected by the wildlife this spring, the ravine (and most of the South) has been enriched with an invasion of thirteen-year cicadas. After having lived a foot underground as nymphs for thirteen years, these little blessings drill upward and crawl out of the ground in waves. They crawl up the nearest tree or bush and hang around (literally) until they graduate from nymph-dom, at which time they slip out of their commencement clothes into something more comfortable, and start some cacophonous courting.
A cicada has only one purpose in life: to reproduce, with nary a side trip for vacationing. Sometime during the five or six weeks of the great gathering, the guys start singing. A boy cicada gets together with one or more willing girls (they’re all willing, the cicada sluts), stops crooning long enough to get down to business, and the female deposits eggs in little slits on a twig—and then she dies. So does he. There is no gender discrimination among cicadas.
According to the University of Tennessee’s website, this brood XIX, The Great Southern Brood, is the largest of the thirteen-year cycle broods, emerging from the earth as many as a million and a half per acre. Well, that would explain the bodies four inches deep under the big maple tree out front.
If you go outside, you’re going to deal with at least one cicada—“one cicada” being about as likely as “a little bit pregnant.” Since I am highly experienced with invasion behavior—theirs, mine, and some of my friends’—I’m offering this handy set of tried-and-true guidelines for your personal use.
Surviving the Cicada Soiree
“Live into it.”
That’s a quote I stole from several pastor friends who utter this wisdom in a counseling session as a response to something like, “I’m really having difficulty since I’ve moved ten rooms of furniture into a six-room house .” I think they mean, “Go with the flow,” or “Give yourself time to figure it out.”
For the impending cicada shindig, we opted for “Make up the rules as you go.” We started by reading up. Most of the advice says you don’t need to cover trees and bushes unless they are young or newly planted, “with branches the size of a pencil or smaller.”
Well, great. Last year we dressed up this old, previously-unloved place by planting a weeping cherry, maples, river birch, and corkscrew willows. This year we planted forsythia, rhododendrons, and some of those azaleas that bloom a lot.
This year we also spent $100 and a whole day sewing custom-fitted nylon net bags, slipping them over the branches, and tying them securely around the trunks. We dressed up seven of the eight trees, two forsythia, two rhododendrons, a weeping cherry, and two rather expensive azaleas.
We are “living into it.” So far, we’ve removed five nylon net bags full of cicadas. It appears that cicada babies “live into” whichever bush or tree is handiest when they ease their chubby little butts out of their little holes.
- Do not spend your money on a cicada cookbook.
I keep seeing these things on the local noon shows. You know very well that you do not want to eat cicadas and if you did, you could summon up enough of your own culinary talents to fry, bake, or stew. After all, you are a Southerner. We can cook anything and make it taste like chicken.
And since you’ve already dreamed up some interesting cuts and special sauces to enhance the flavor while developing a smoother texture, put a note on your calendar to write a cookbook the next time the cicadas come around.
I would encourage you to choose a title and theme like “Complete Cicada Cookery,” or you could specialize for “Cicadas, Potatoes, and Homegrown Tomatoes.” Those “5 Ingredients, 15 Minutes” recipes are very popular, too. You might want to reserve some time to explore several trendy titles.
Remember to categorize the recipes by appetizer, main course, and dessert. (Forget the Creamy Cicada Bisque and Scintillating Sicada Salad. Soups and salads require too much prep work.) Your cookbook buyers will appreciate your simple organization and your insight into what works best for the basic ingredient.
Southern Foodways Alliance might cozy up and make you an offer for your regional delicacies. You could become the Paula Deen of cicada chef-dom.
- Do not sing or hum in a key similar to the male cicada’s mating call.
I don’t know exactly what that key is but for some completely unspiritual reason, I started humming “For All the Saints” last Tuesday while I was covering my mother’s blueberry bush. (Cicadas don’t eat blueberries, but the feathered friends do.)
I had just covered the line in the second verse, “But then there breaks a yet more glorious day, the saints triumphant rise in bright array” when two dozen sticky virgins rose and clamored for shirt and skin space. I hate to think what might have happened if I’d been humming that old Southern favorite “Victory in Jesus” instead of that 200-year-old hymn from the Lutheran Book of Worship. These are Southern cicadas. They respond to gospel music.
Cicadas are wildly attracted to the engine of a lawn mower, but they find a Craftsman two-cycle mini-tiller absolutely irresistible, as Grandpa will attest. If you’re scared to ride, push, or pull something across your yard that is powered by an engine, then you should just spray the lawn with Roundup prior to the cicada gala. No one on your street wants to see grass a foot tall going to seed, whether it’s in a garden or on your lawn.
- Do not take cicadas into the house—anyone’s house.
When a cicada buzzes in for a landing, there’s a 50-50 chance it’s a male who will know no better than to start that incessant serenade. A never-ending one-note song at 100 decibels could actually drive a normally rational couch potato to take a chainsaw to the floors and furnishings to out the noisy baritone.
Dave wore one of the Romeos in on a T-shirt over at Mom and Dad’s place the other day, and I was afraid we were going to have to re-remodel the place before the old folks’ bedtime.
Mom said, “I will never be able to sleep tonight with all that racket.”
After three trips through the house, she found him behind the coffee canister. He made the mistake of crooning to her just as she was washing her hands at the kitchen sink. Dad carefully carried him outside in cupped hands. I thought, “A million and a half of them on our acre here and he can’t stand the thought of exterminating one.” Dad is a gentle man.
An onset of a brief episode of “do-gooder” on Monday had me digging up some clumps of mint to take to my friend who just adores the stuff. She does not, I found, appreciate in the slightest a clinging cicada. She produced a lot of noise herself before the bug ever thought about warbling, and none of it was anything you’d call music.
We turned that unwelcome traveler loose in the business section of Old Hickory Blvd.
- “Do a little dance.”
That’s a line I stole from a 1975 song by KC and the Sunshine Band called “Get Down Tonight.”
Cicadas do not bite. A cicada does not have a mouth! I thought that was the most comforting news until I got to the part about “however, they may try to pierce and suck you.” They have this little needle thing right on the end of the nose, sort of like a straw, that helps them to get a little juice, but please be consoled in knowing that you would only be pierced if the cicada were convinced that your appendage might be a twig on a tree!
The solution to this problem is so simple. Never allow a cicada the opportunity to postulate that you might be a dogwood.
However, if you’re walking to the mailbox and nothing will do but to stop to peruse the perennials, one or more of these sticky critters may attach to your clothing or, worse yet, your skin. This is your cue to immediately jump up and down, gyrate wildly just short of obscenity, and flail the air with your arms and legs.
Screaming doesn’t seem to help unless it just makes you feel better to get it all out. Pre-choreographed traveling steps and head tossing are optional. I guess you might also pick up a couple of packages of Depends as soon as you know that an invasion is imminent. Buy the store brand. They’re a lot less expensive when you have to use a lot of them.
The cicada will leave your twirling, twitching body, as insects do not understand crazy. As an added benefit of your perfect performance, you’ll probably notice several dead cicadas (and maybe a couple of blackbird carcasses) on the ground.
Stand up straight, serenely smooth your clothing, and then wave and smile to the drivers of the cars who have stopped to gawk. If you’re not completely breathless, invite them in for a drink. For that possibility, lay in a supply of bottom-shelf vodka and Old Milwaukee when you go out to get that incontinence protection. I recommend economy-priced liquor because there is no need, whatsoever, to serve Absolut and Heinekin to strangers. There is a point at which you will appreciate a reserve of the premium stuff.
If a cicada (or battalion of them) finds you crossing a highly-trafficked street in the business district, perhaps over on Old Hickory Blvd., go into the same jitterbug-jive that you have already practiced at home. With a few minor adjustments (maybe control the extreme hip-circling moves and some of the screaming), you’ll be able to complete the routine as expertly as you might in your own yard.
Don’t sit down on the curb and pull out a brew. There are rules about that.
- “Shake, Shake, Shake, Shake Your Booty.”
This is a variation on #5, above, and it’s the title of another KC song.
Now get this: Cicadas don’t really scare me, but I don’t want one up my dress and neither do you. You don’t want one up your pants leg, either, come to think of it.
If you should be driving down the road and suddenly feel pinching and scratching and buzzing on the inside of your thigh, do take the nearest exit, even if said ramp is really an entrance to a truck stop. Your goal is to get safely off the thoroughfare so that you can remove the offending vermin as quickly as possible.
As you direct your car off the right side of the road or street, do remember to put the gearshift in P, for “Park,” before you open the door of the vehicle. Usually the P has a circle around it in some fashion. There are several models of cars that will allow you to jump out of the driver’s seat, while still moving, in order to jumpstart a livelier, expanded version of “Do a Little Dance.”
The vehicle will not stop just because you want out of there yesterday.
The car will continue to move in the same direction as the front wheels are turned, and since you have just pulled into a truck stop, your transportation may head toward some sort of building or gas pump. It is possible that an observant trucker just about to tuck into some chicken-fried steak and gravy will drop his biscuit, tear out the front door of the diner, and quickly insert himself into your vehicle and grab the wheel. Bless his soul, he’ll stop that vehicle before it shatters the plate glass at Felicia’s Fill-M-Up.
Meanwhile, you’ll be stomping the ground in circles while you pull your skirt over your head and shake your lower body with unbridled violence—to the absolute astonishment of Chuck, Buddy, and John-Boy sitting at the first four-up by the window. They won’t lay down their forks but their attention will suddenly shift from the fried eggs, grits, and country ham and will be focused watchfully on the swirling spectacle out in the parking lot. Their mouths will be open but the forks just won’t go there.
One of your more intriguing jerky-moves will remind John-Boy of that time, on the way to Sunday school so many years ago, when his mother found the family of field mice nested in the console of her Malibu. John-Boy’s the one who will realize that you are not-sick-but-do-need-help. He’ll burst through the front door like Superman, bravely break into your outrageous-but-necessary full body shimmy, grab you by the shoulders and yell, “Mom, Mom, it’s okay!”
His “Mom!” will grab you just like a five-year-old’s “Mom!” from six aisles away at Wal-Mart, but you just won’t be able to stop shaking your booty. Wise John-Boy will read the faraway look in your eyes and know that he has captured enough of your attention to assure you in a loud voice, “It’s on the ground. You’ve stomped it to death.”
You’ll look down and see flattened wings, crushed thorax, and two beady red eyes, the only part of the head that remains intact. And there’s another, and another, and another… John-Boy will gently genuflect and come back up holding half a dead offender by a wing.
“See?” he says. “He’s gone.”
John-Boy will take your arm and softly invite you to “come on in the diner and have a cup of coffee.”
You’ll shake your head slowly from side to side.
“Well, then, just a glass of water,” he’ll say.
You’ll decline politely, thank him quietly, and turn toward the vehicle, both eyes on the ground.
The keys will still be in the ignition. You’ll start the car and slide the switch on the air conditioner, then sit there and breathe deeply five times so that you can remember where you were going oh-so-long ago when you were suddenly called to center-stage.
You’ll turn around in the parking lot to go home. You’ll need to lie down.
When you pull out onto the road, you’ll resolve to find a different way to get to Wal-Mart, or maybe you’ll consider shopping at Target.