No, the title to this post does not refer to the classic ‘70s Al Stewart tune (and a mellow classic it is) but rather what I’ve been witnessing in full force this summer.
It started in May and June, as spring was giving way to summer, and here in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States we were inundated with the return of the Brood X cicadas. These big-ass, ugly insects emerge every seventeen years and while much was made of their invasion they turned out to be harmless—except to certain plants, apparently, and late in their visit, to the cleanliness of your windshield. Man, did they make big splats!
What was amazing about them was the cacophony they made. It was stunning: one day the woods were quiet, the next, the very definition of a dull roar was inescapable. I went for a walk in Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and BAM! There it was: a constant buzz or hum that permeated the forest. I couldn’t see any of the critters and it was only after I made sure it wasn’t my ears playing tricks on me that I realized I was finally experiencing the cicada bloom. A few days later I stopped at a Wawa store south of town to get a soda and the noise from the tiny deciduous tree beside which I parked was deafening. And it was there that I finally saw the ugly little spuds.
But I have to confess: the joy I felt at getting to experience this natural cycle greatly overshadowed any trepidation at the cicadas’ extraterrestrial looks. Especially after realizing that I had never had this experience before. Sure, I’d heard the cicadas that one hears every summer, the ones whose buzzing comes on during a sunny day and rings out for about thirty seconds or so before fading away until it’s heard again a while later.
No, this constant din that ran on for a couple of weeks was like nothing I’d ever heard before. And when I did the math I realized: seventeen years ago was 2004…in spring of that year I was living in Idaho and about to move to Alaska so nope, didn’t hear it then; seventeen years before that was 1987…I was finishing my junior year of college in an exchange term at UC-San Diego in La Jolla so nope, didn’t hear them then, either; and seventeen years before that was in 1970 and I’m sure I was at my family’s home in the woods of Orangeburg, New York, and it was undoubtedly my best chance at having heard the Brood X cicada invasion…except I was 4 years old so nope, no memory of that example of natural rhythm either.
And it was while spending spring and summer in the area around Annapolis that I had another in-your-face reminder of the rhythms of the natural world. Once you get out of Annapolis proper, much of neighboring Anne Arundel County is agricultural, and as I’ve been essentially commuting between town and my boat in the southern part of the county it’s been fascinating to me to watch the crops grow. Seeing fields that in April were empty plots of dirt begin to show sharp lines of tiny green seedlings and then explode to being vast rows of corn that tower over my six-foot-two frame has been a real lesson in, well, life.
I’m sure to a farmer who lives this cycle season in and season out over years and decades it’s no big deal. And I’ve spent most of my life at latitudes where the cyclical pattern of the seasons has been on stark display. But to see how FAST the corn has grown has been shocking. Things started slowly as the temperatures still swung through a wide range from day to night. But a few days of rain and the stalks had risen noticeably; a heat wave and they’re up a bunch more. Warm air, moisture, bright sunshine: get a strong dose of one or more of those and the corn is several inches higher overnight. In another few weeks, I’m sure we’ll be enjoying fresh, local corn on the cob, and as a result of having seen the process every step of the way it will be as though I’m part of the cycle in this corner of the world. And the corn will taste that much sweeter as a result.
And though I get accused by some (okay, one) friend that this blog has an overabundance of death themes, it must be acknowledged that this has been a summer, and a year-plus, of similar in-your-face reminders of the passing of time. The virus that continues to ravage our species has taken so many people, some of whom I knew and some I didn’t know but admired. Several friends have lost loved ones, to Covid and other maladies. Hell, in one week alone, three friends had their dogs pass away. Speaking personally, trying to get my fitness level back to near where it was and where it needs to be has been a depression-inducing slog, as has my growing dependence on eyeglasses, where as recently as a couple of years ago I had better-than-20/20 vision.
But what I was reminded of this spring and summer is that it’s all part of a grand process. Hearing the once-in-seventeen-years cicada symphony was another new connection to this Earth of which I’m part, and for that experience I am grateful. And seeing the abundance of life in the explosion of corn in Anne Arundel County reminded me of the very persistence and vigor of life itself.
The vigor of corn that grows as high as an elephant’s eye (to cite a famous show tune) and cicadas that lie dormant for almost two decades before bursting into a love song is why this is NOT a morbid meditation. It is, rather, just me fishing in the manner about which Al Stewart sang back in 1978:
Well I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on are the things that don’t last
Well it’s just now and then my line gets cast into these