Sunday, July 08, 2018

blowing up jiminy cricket

It is cicada time in our neck of the jungle.

But you would not know it just by listening for them. Usually, the neighborhood is abuzz with the love calls of one of nature's oddest-looking insects. With their oversized eyes, Lane Bryant bodies, and disproportionate diaphanous wings, it is no wonder they have to sing so incessantly to find a mate.

I know they are out and about because I run into them (literally) every night on my terrace repurposed as an exercise track.

They are attracted to the light at night. When they are not mooning away staring into the light (which must be far more attractive than a mate), they are battering their bulky bodies against the sconces.

The sconces win. In the morning, the bodies of the cicadas are scattered across the equivalent of the Little Big Horn. And that strikes me as a rather odd way to conduct a reproductive cycle. Suicide rather than procreation.

Two weeks ago, I received an email from a friend in Salem. Like me, he loves playing with words.

"I am reading the memoir of Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road.

"Ms. Thurston, a black woman, grew up in Florida in the early 20s, amid people of great simplicity and little nuance.  As a child she would go out into nature, talking to trees, birds, and lakes.  One day she returned home and told her mother about having spoken to the lake, which allowed her to walk upon its surface without being drowned.  She recounted how she was able to look down upon the fish below and to see the life in the lake.

"Her grandmother overheard her stories and cautioned the mother that the child was lying and that if she didn't beat the lying out of the child now, it would only get worse."

I often meet people who confuse the use of the poetic with lying. And who are impoverished by their inability to see the world through different eyes.

When I visited Colombia with my cousin and his Colombian wife, she told me of a cricket that would sing one last song and then explode.

I knew she was referring to cicadas because we had been listening to them. But I had never thought of describing their life cycle as singing and then exploding. Like something from a Monty Python skit.

The genesis of the tale is obvious. After cicadas dig out of the soil where they have spent most of their life, they go through several stages of molting. My planters are currently filled with the husks of cicadas who have flown away to mate.

Sons of the enlightenment see the remnants of a life cycle. A poet sees an insect whose joy at being alive cannot be contained. It dies in one last burst of song. It is a very Latin view of life. Joy and death walking together toward the inevitable.

I probably scoffed when I heard the Colombian myth. I shouldn't have. There are things in life that are better explained by the music of poetry than the sterile language of facts.

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