Cicada by Chloe Ashton

Another day in the pandemic, this time with cicadas.

The cicadas sing in waves, one chorus rising from across the yard diminishing for another to rise with insect harmony. At times it can feel deafening, this persistent tree-hum; other times it is like white noise, useful for sitting out on the deck, the mobile phone put away, low music on the speakers, dim patio lights aglow.

My brain needs rest.

There is nothing new in this observation, but it’s worth mentioning nevertheless. Right now every sense we have is awash in a hyper-stimulated flood, the kind that wears you down and erodes what little measures of grace you might have in reserve.

The kids go back to school this week. The yellow buses roll on, and faculty march in with the duty borne of soldiers. I am always in awe of the indefatigable optimism of teachers, their hearts full of it. They are like army engineers, always grappling difficult challenges and bootstrapping solutions. These days they will do it backwards and wearing masks.

And I am tired. We haven’t had “normal” class days in public schools here in 163 days. It’s as if we started spring break and accidentally slipped into a time warp, some gonzo version of Groundhog Day where the days change but the tide of bad news never goes out. Everything’s fine until we feel that pinched nerve.

It seems impossible to think that we went off to Great Wolf Lodge at the beginning of all this–knowing something was lurking, but not realizing quite what it would turn out to be. Hundreds of children bobbing across indoor pools, reeking of chlorine, our kids putting their hands on high-touch surfaces while we kept checking our phones to see headline after headline, our stomachs lurching with the shifts in gravity.

In the days and weeks and months since, we have hopscotched completely off kilter, careening from one devastation to another. Pandemic, civil unrest, democracy in peril, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and even a not-so-subtle earthquake a week ago. The cicadas hatched from their 17-year slumber, caught completely unaware of what they were getting into.

Since we all are spending our lives at home these days, we got to see the cicadas from a much closer vantage point. Every day we’d find their muddy husks latched onto bricks or trees or car tires, and later, we’d see their still-gooey second forms arcing in hapless flightpaths, crashing into anything avoidable in their way.

It was a feast for a surprising number of natural predators. I never knew ants could rush a cicada and make a meal so fast. And cicada-killer wasps, longer than an inch or more, would swarm them in mid-air, stabbing them with stingers again and again until they relented to unavoidable reality.

This is the world in which we are sending our children to school, a world in which merciless wasps hunt without regard to the humans watching, a world in which wearing a mask to stave off community transmission has become not a public health commitment but a political statement.

We arise every morning to another angry flood, all of us caught in a summer fever dream, wondering whether there is wisdom to be found anywhere in the madness.