Thursday, August 27, 2009


The other morning as I sat down to my desk, I noticed a cicada dead on its back. I picked it up to flick it out, when I felt his legs stir and cling feebly to my thumb, steadying himself like some beer-soaked frat boy slowly rousing himself and wondering whether he'd had a good time last night. I retrieved my camera with my free hand and clicked (below). Then, without warning, he just went off: "whhhrrrRRRLLLclclclCLCLCL!"
Listening to a chorus of cicadas, you'd assume you're hearing a host of hundreds or thousands. But holding this little dynamo in my fingers, I sensed the power of one. A mere quartet of these little virtuosos could produce a mighty sound. And when their numbers really swell, the racket can be deafening! A locally seasonal species known as the Dawn and Dusk Cicada, whose sentinel call bookends the day, has a much deeper more resonant twang; as though channeling an "Ommmm" from a faraway Tibetan monastery through a Jimi Hendrix fuzzbox.

Remember those little metal cricket clicker toys, with the strip of spring steel that you pushed "click" and released "clack"? Clickclackclickclackclickclack... Drove my mother crazy! Cicadas are about the same size. If those cheap little made-in-Japan noise toys of my childhood had evolved along with Japan's consumer products technology revolution, they would probably resemble the metal-flake sea-green gossamer-winged fellow I held in my fingertips (the modern version being fully automated, lithium ion-powered, and GPS-equipped; with downloadable "whhhrrrrRRRclclCLCL" tones on the website).

Like so many other insects, cicadas are drawn to light at night. They're big enough to make quite an impression when they come hurtling in, as you sit quietly dining by candlelight. They may be reckless but they're hardly malicious; just clumsy and easily disoriented. Landing on the table and sitting perfectly still, they'll hesitatingly start to crawl toward the object of their obsessioncandle glowand suddenly launch themselves full force into the candle vase (Slam!) then lay languishing on their backs, stunned unconscious, before stirring and having another go (Slam!).

I was cleaning up after dinner when something big landed on my nose
I was helpless, both hands in dishwater. With a cross-eyed downward glance, I detected out-of-focus metallic blue-green, dislodged the little bugger with a shake of my head and upward puff. What is it with these guys, anyway?!

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