On My Mind: The Buzz Of Life

Aug 17, 2020

There's a buzz outside our house these days. 

Cicadas. They sing every day, just about all day long. Sometimes they find a ragged harmony of sorts, and other times they find the same long note, like a bagpipes’ drone.

The one thing you might know about cicadas is that they stay dormant for a long time. This year, some parts of North Carolina got to hear a brood of cicadas that had been underground for 17 years. There are other cicadas that hide out for 13 years, all the way down to ones that spend just a year or two out of sight.

Eventually they all molt one last time and emerge as adults, leaving their husks behind like empty peanut shells.

I knew it took them years to arrive. But I had to look up what happens when they finally get out into the world. It turns out they have some environmental benefits -- they prune trees and aerate the soil, for example.

But it also turns out those cicadas we’re hearing right now have an adult lifespan of just four to six weeks.

That buzz in the air is the sound of thousands of male cicadas, singing love songs to the females, desperately hoping to mate in the little bit of time they have left.

Time has been such an odd and bendy thing these last few months. A day feels like a month and a month can slip by in a day. Everything feels important and nothing feels urgent. A lot of us have lost that internal clock that gets us to the office on time or down to the bar on a Saturday night.

At our house we have taken to spending a lot of time on the porch. And out there, all around us, are bugs for whom time means everything.

It feels like a cruel trick of nature to spend all that time underground only to have a few weeks to really live your life. But now that time has been taken away from us, it’s easier to understand how much the time we do have is a gift.

I find myself rooting for the cicadas to sing loud, make love, and die satisfied. Maybe, once we emerge from this husk the world has enclosed us in, we can live our lives the same way.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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