It’s been 17 years since we’ve seen these creatures, or at least the prior generation of their kind. Some cicadas are annual visitors, but Brood X , the current emerging generation of cicadas (also known as the Great Eastern Brood) are now coming out and up from a 17 year subterranean gestational period to do their thing topside. What is their thing? Finding a mate is a top priority so they can perpetuate the species and come calling again in the year 2038.
Looking Back: 17 years ago my family and I were living in Bloomington, Indiana a densely tree populated part of the state, giving us a front row experience with these dude’s parents. I remember that time well, not just from of the overhead drone of cicada mating calls, but because of other things going on at the time. My oldest sister, Ruth, had passed away that Memorial Day weekend after too short a battle with glioblastoma (brain cancer), and we were participating in her funeral. Driving back and forth between Bloomington and Greencastle, we traversed the forested lands of Monroe, Owen and Putnam counties with the constant musical hum of the full-throated cicada choir in the canopies overhead.
I remember pointing out to the kids the holes in the soil from which the cicada larvae had emerged, and finding their shell carcasses affixed to trees. I also remember trying to keep the dog from eating them while we took him on his daily walks. But mostly I remember that it was a time when life felt different – changed. As a greater family we were encountering our first real loss in the death of my oldest sibling, a mother and wife and gifted teacher and church musician. Our routines of Memorial Day camping weekends, complete with singing around the campfire, would no longer be the same. We were together on this holiday weekend, but not a reason any of us desired.
In the years since there have been additional losses. Another sister succumbed to a related form of brain cancer. Both of my parents, the patriarch and matriarch of our clan, have also gone ahead to glory. Despite efforts to gather across the generations and miles (something a pandemic challenged) inevitably things are different today. Attention and effort moves to the next generations and experiences of family. Our own progenitors have yielded way. My generation has become the grey headed presence in family get-togethers.
Looking back to 2004 I would like to think the world was a different place. Perhaps things were not quite as polarized then as they feel now. Yes, there were differences of opinion, outlook and direction; but Social Media had not yet exploded and exacerbated those differences to the extent it does today. News wasn’t as “on demand” or directed to your feed by algorithms designed to reinforce personal interests and biases.
My own family life was very different then, as we had all three of our children under our roof, with busy school-aged activities dominating the calendar. I was in a different ministry position which dictated a different routine. We lived in a different house and a different town. The point being, much can change in 17 years, even as the march of the Great Eastern Cicada cycle goes on.
Looking Ahead: Which leads me to wonder, what will life look like in 2038, the next time these creepy crawlers emerge, should we be so fortunate to still be alive? It’s hard to say, isn’t it? The pace of change has so exponentially shifted as technologies develop and direct our lives. The world has become smaller with the realities of globalization in business and politics. Global health concerns seem more prominent than ever as we continue to try and find our way forward past the covid-19 pandemic. Climate change will be a factor, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. And, I fear not acknowledging it will no more deter it than it will the next generation of Brood X!
I will be 74 years old in the year 2038, should the Lord tarry and I still be topside. It’s hard to fathom what that will feel and look like personally. I think one always imagine him or herself at a younger age than is reality. I am certain there will be additional losses to grapple with in the intervening 17 years. Will we be in the same house? The same city? How will the family look? What will be our routine? Might there be a new grandchild with whom to walk the forest and point out the holes in the earth, the carcasses on the trees, and listen to the overhead concert?
Perhaps you, like I, are prone to using the markers of life – be they a 17 year cicada cycle, or some other milestone – to take a look back and look forward. It’s human nature to do this. We all have a sense of knowing that our time on this earth is temporary. It had a start (an emergence) and it will come to a close. We will pass the baton on to the next generation(s), sometimes graciously and sometimes begrudgingly. The danger, of course, in this distance viewing – past or future – is that we miss the present.
I was reminded of that, too, strangely enough by the cicadas. Two timely trips to the fine Indiana State Parks of Spring Mill and Brown County provided the settings. Hard to escape the sound and sight of the new generation of Brood X that was making itself known in those locales. I saw the holes in the soil, located a few evacuated carcasses on the trees, and could not escape the overhead drone of mating calls. I marveled at the seeming obscurity of a 17 year gestation period, followed by a fleeting life cycle. Knowing I would never figure it out, I chose to chalk it up to being “interesting” – a curious fact of life and creation. I chose instead to enjoy the moment, to enjoy the day. I would recommend you do the same.