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.

Wee Yellow Fly 40

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?

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.

007 szd

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.

48 Comments on “It’s the Little Things

  1. This is a really gorgeous post. I am sick about Oklahoma and crying for those children and the adults and the horses. I’m glad you posted this.

  2. Beautiful post and equally beautiful photograph of the wings. I didn’t know they shed them like that. Thank you for sharing.

    • Pam, they don’t shed their wings. That’s why it was so sad. They had been damaged by something – rain, a parasite, I don’t know what. Hundreds of them died on the tree, unable to fly.
      Thank you for reading, and for your sweet comment.

      • Oh no I thought that might be their process. That is sad, tragic,but so sweet to be remembered with such grace which seems to be all we can do sometimes.

  3. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking, yet reluctantly, and intuitively, understood that nothing can be done. Why is it no easier then, even when one recognizes that? The sad beauty you captured in the photograph is moving. I think remembering and honoring relieves some helplessness.

    Thinking of Moore…

    • That’s it exactly. Remembering and honoring is human, necessary, and sometimes, all we can do. Thank you for your beautiful comment.

  4. So inspiring Zen. I will look at the little guys differently from now on. You should meet my sister Tricia (my post Look To The Sky). You two were cast from the same mold.

      • Lord no! My sister has stopped to get a snake off the interstate…picked up a chicken that fell off the truck headed to the processing plant and spent $1,000.00 trying to save it. She could have bought the same bird for .69lb. Pull up Central Georgia CARES…that’s her. Also is her. But that’s a secret. Nobody here knows who does the typing for AC.

  5. Very sad for the Cicados; but your tenderness and how you have marked the occasion with your altar blessing, and written testimony, will also have been ‘seen’. God Bless.

  6. I am a bug rescuer as well. When my kids were toddlers/preschoolers, we’d go to the park in the winter rains and rescue all the worms that were drowning on the asphalt path and return them to the dirt and grass. So many beautiful beings just long to be seen for who they are. More than doing, sometimes seeing is what is needed. And I think seeing is a special gift.

    • you said, “So many beautiful beings just long to be seen for who they are. More than doing, sometimes seeing is what is needed. And I think seeing is a special gift.”
      OMG! You’re right! I never even made the connection to my previous post on “human doings”. You should charge for your therapy powers! 😉
      Glad to know you’re a bug rescuer too.

      • I agree, Jilanne’s words are brilliant, as is this post, especially in the light of what happened in Oklahoma. I’m wondering if your experience with the cicadas last night was a harbinger of the events to come. Either way, your compassion and tenderness warms my crying heart on this day of mourning. {{{hugs]}} Kozo

          • Thanks, Zen Doe. I felt the same hesitation as you did before publishing which is why I didn’t tag or link the post to anything. I just needed to remind myself of this moment, and I was hoping to remind others who were still able to read of how precious and essential life is. Your post reminded me of the same thing, but in a totally different way. I appreciate your friendship. {{{hugs}}} Kozo

  7. Thank you for this! I was very touched by your honoring of the damaged cicadas with the altar and also with your beautiful words, in the face of helplessness.
    This is inspiring – because it is something we can do!

    • Thank you, Elke. I have to believe that small moments like this aren’t completely pointless.

  8. A small boy was visiting the beach and noticed that a storm had beached hundreds of starfish all over the sand. He picked one up and threw it back into the ocean. He picked up another and threw it back as well. He was busy throwing as many starfish back as he could when an old man approached and watched him doing this. “What are you doing?” the old man said to the boy. “I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean or else they will die from lack of oxygen when the tide gets low”. The man said, “That’s ridiculous, there isn’t any point in what you’re doing, there are thousands of starfish here and there are hundreds of beaches down the coast, you can’t possibly make a difference!”
    The boy looked down, bent down to pick up a starfish, smiled, and threw it back into the ocean. “ It made a big difference to that one”.
    Little acts of bug compassion go a long way-I’m with you on this one
    ~Confessed Fellow Bug Protector~

    • YAY! Another bug protector! 🙂 And thank you for the starfish story. I haven’t taken time to read it in ages.

  9. A very moving and, as always, thought provoking post. This is the perfect description of those moments when I have to accept the limits of my understanding and not try to uderstand why suffering (even to the little things!) happens, but just witness it with compassion and let the beings present know I’m in the fire with them.

    • “but just witness it with compassion and let the beings present know I’m in the fire with them.” This is most important.

  10. I can only thank you for writing it out here Zen. I have absolutely nothing to add to your posts, and I don’t mind that. Thank you for putting it out here.

    Sorry to hear about Moore…

    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Tatsat. I always appreciate encouragement to keep writing. Be well.

    • Amen! And how wonderful to find yet another bug rescuer! We could start a club! LOL! Thanks for the sweet words about the post, and for your wonderful line: No matter how small we are, we deserve our chance to live. <– This about says it all!

  11. what a wonderful post…
    I am a rescuer of Gaia’s creatures too….
    so sad about the cicada’s….I find wings, feathers dragonflies, butterflies and use them in some the art I play at….
    your photo was breathtaking…they would make a beautiful mandala….
    I enjoy the sense of calm in your space and thoughts here, I will enjoy wandering in again….
    Take Care…

  12. For some reason this post didn’t show up in my reader…’s been happening a lot lately. I’m so glad I found it, reading it has slowed my breath, and reconnected me to the process of living and dying. Your tender love of life in all its shapes and forms shines through on golden wings. Robbed of their final joyous act of flight makes them no less meaningful in the grand cycles of life 🙂

    • Thanks, Seonaid. What a sweet and lovely comment. I’m having the same thing happening with people’s posts not showing up in my reader. 😦

  13. Beautiful and incredibly touching. Thank you from a fellow lover of creatures of all sizes for this comforting post. Bless your heart. Gina

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