At some point in my life, I became a champion of little things. I don’t remember when this happened, which isn’t unusual because I have such a quirky memory. What I do know is that I’ve always been fascinated by the tiny.
Miniscule beads, insects, seeds, just about anything mini is interesting in some way to me. This has been quite a challenge, I might add, because my eyesight is and always has been dreadful.
When I finally decided to buy a really good camera, the first extra I had to have was a macro lens. I’ve photographed countless insects, hummingbird feathers, droplets of water and the like. It’s always a bit of a shock when I look at these pictures on a large computer screen. More than once, I’ve actually squealed with delight to see into their complex and usually invisible worlds.
But, it’s more, much more, than scientific or aesthetic appreciation to me. There’s something about tiny creatures that moves me to want to protect them, to honor them, to defend them. Yeah, I know, they’re just bugs.
I have a bit of a reputation as a defender of creepy-crawlies. My colleagues don’t hesitate to voice their disgust when I pick up wilted earthworms that have had the misfortune to find themselves drowning in a puddle or tediously creeping across a scorching black top. I have to smile though, when these same women pop into my office and ask me sweetly to remove the spider from the bathroom.
There’s something deeply healing for me in each of these gestures of kindness, each rescue of a small creature that otherwise has no advocate. Insects aren’t nearly as galvanizing as whales or elephants.
When I was small, I’m sure that my parents kept me from dangers. It’s what all parents do. But what of the times when it was the parents themselves who presented the danger? To whom could I turn? I don’t ever remember feeling safe. Each time I carry a spider outside, a little something in the world is healed. That’s important. And it isn’t a contrived activity, it’s simply how I like to live. It feels right. The balm for the soul is just a bonus.
It happens that I live in the center of the universe for “Brood II Magicicadas”. Cicadas, if you’re not familiar with them, are very large and very loud flying insects with vivid green eyes. A summer night isn’t complete without their raucous, deafening trilling in the trees. They live underground until it’s time for them to shed their old skins, grow wings and fly off into the night to mate. It happens every summer. Children love finding their abandoned brown skin husks attached to tree trunks.
But, the “Magicicadas” are special. The entire brood lives underground for a remarkable seventeen years of root-eating creepy-crawling until the seventeen year cycle is up, then they boil up out of the ground by the tens of thousands, climb trees, molt, and fly away after their wings have hardened. These periodical cicadas are smaller than their perennial cousins and are orange-red as opposed to green.
Their emergence this week has been something to see unless you’re squeamish about bugs. They cover fence posts, drip from your flowers and dangle from the leaves of trees, all in various stages of crawling, molting, emerging, and drying.
After supper last night, just before sunset, I went outside to wish the horses a good evening. They often line up at the fence when they see me coming. Might have something to do with the carrots. I stayed with them a little while, stroking their soft coats and talking with them. It was a quiet, beautiful time of day. The last rays of the sun were breaking through the clouds that had brought heavy rain earlier.
The grass was cool and wet, and the 21 ancient oak trees in my yard stood silently, enjoying the golden warmth of the sun. For a few moments, I remembered to appreciate these old souls and the whisperings of their leaves. I walked gently to one of them, to place a hand on the lichen-covered bark.
There, on the tree trunk, were hundreds of newly emerged cicadas. But, every one of them was deformed. Their wings were missing, or shriveled. They clung to the tree, or marched slowly up the trunk, as is their nature. But, not one of them would ever be able to fly away.
The horizontal rays of orange sun illuminated something on the ground, and I squatted down to be able to see what it was. Hundreds of glistening inch-long wings, delicate and as transparent as spun glass lay in a pile on the moss between the tree’s roots, sparking in the light. As I looked, several more wings fluttered to the ground from high in the branches. It was incredibly beautiful, and I found myself squatting there like a child, feeling simultaneously enchanted and very sad that so many of the cicadas were damaged.
I gathered the wings, picking each one up as carefully as I could so that they wouldn’t tear, and after a last look at the broken cicadas, I slipped quietly into the house and up to my room.
I spread the wings in an arc on the old sewing machine table that is my makeshift altar, and lit a small tea candle. They sparkled like gold leaf.
Whispered to the cicadas: I saw you. I couldn’t save you, but I know that you existed, if only for the briefest moment. I won’t forget. This is the best I can do. Sometimes we’re helpless.
All photographs copyright ZenDoe, 2013
*Note: Just as I finished writing this, the news of the tornado and its devastation in Moore, Oklahoma began to pour in. I thought for a moment of pulling this post, but somehow it seemed right to go ahead and publish it. Sometimes we’re helpless…
This is a stunning time-lapse video of the life cycle of the cicadas.