"Conversation with a Cicada"
Lou Miller and Les Adler
It's taken weeks and the urgings of friends, but I've decided to come out. I'd feared doing so would place me in the same class of people as Clint Eastwood whose rant to a wooden stool spoiled it for anyone who communicated with something not quite human.
Even though I was warned I could become tagged as the "Cicada Whisperer," the incredible conversation I recently had with a spokesman from that much-maligned species forces me to speak out.
Not long ago, my garden was a tranquil area where I could enjoy a cup of coffee while busy on my laptop--or play baseball and soccer with the kids. That suddenly changed when the soil temperature reached sixty-four degrees and the magicicadas (a taxonomical term) knew the time was ripe for them to emerge from seventeen years of living underground.
Cicadas taking flight by DanCentury
They took over the neighborhood with their noisy and overt sexual behavior. They were members of Brood II--one of the largest in the country--who populate the East Coast of the United States.
What's unusual about these cicadas is they spend seventeen years of their lives underground feeding on the roots of our trees. On cue, they emerge to mate and lay eggs that drop back down in the soil and bury themselves for another seventeen years.
One of these cicadas had been assigned by the brood to talk with me to find out what conditions would be the next time they were scheduled to emerge. He hopped on the lip of my coffee cup and started the conversation.
"Seems like the ground temperatures have been getting just a tad bit warmer over the past few generations," he casually offered. "Can we expect that trend to continue?"
"Excuse me?" I responded, lifting him gently on my finger from his perch on my cup so I could sniff the coffee to see if someone had put something in there that was affecting my mind.
"It's not your coffee," he assured me, seeming to read my thoughts. "I've been sent to find out whether my brood--which has been operating on the same schedule for thousands of generations--can continue to expect conditions to remain the same when we come back next."
I looked around to be certain no other humans were around to notice this strangely rational discussion of the weather I was having with a small green insect. "If I'm doing my math correctly, you'll be returning in 2030."
"According to your calendar, yes," my guest replied, though our concern is that if the soil keeps getting warm a little earlier in the year, the trees we depend on might migrate miles to the north."
"You come out for only a few weeks every seventeen years but know more about changes that are happening to the climate than the average American," I said.
"We have to," he replied impatiently. "We only get one chance every seventeen years to reproduce; if conditions have changed too greatly for that to happen, then, well, it's game over for us!"