The first time I experienced Brood X in Maryland was in 1970. I was in middle school. It was a time of significant turmoil, change and unrest in our country.
The summer before, the Stonewall Riots erupted, providing impetus for the formation of the Gay Liberation Front, and over 400,000 people attended the unprecedented Woodstock Music Festival and heard Jimi Hendrix’s electrifying anti-war “Star Spangled Banner.” Peace, love, and rock ’n’ roll, were woven into the fabric of civil disobedience and pacifist protests, along with cries of “revolution.”
The civil rights movement was in full force, Richard Nixon was president, the Vietnam War was raging, the feminist movement was reaching new heights, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were occupying campus buildings in protests. College campuses overall epitomized the generational conflicts and anti-establishment movement. And then, in the spring of 1970, four students on the way to class at Kent State were killed by the National Guard, as members confronted anti-war protesters on campus.
It seemed that the country was at war with itself when the cicadas emerged.
The cicadas did not seem at all bothered by the raging turmoil. I guess that is understandable, after waiting for 17 years to come out and have a moment in the sun. They did, however, seem to embrace the “Summer of Love” theme from a few years earlier. Soon, that 1970 invasion of Brood X was over, and the next generation of cicadas went underground to wait their 17 years.
I missed the next few Brood X emergences, as I was not living in the state. Now, three cicada cycles and 51 years later, the country is again in turmoil — for different reasons, but the societal dissonance and conflicts are very similar. We have seen protests, violent confrontations between citizens and police, and between citizens who can no longer have civil conversations about differing views. We have fake news, alternative facts, and many who believe an election was stolen. We hear talk of revolution, and our nation’s Capitol building was attacked by our own citizens.
In 1970, when I was a kid, the uncertainty was exciting, unsettling and all I knew. The cicadas could not have cared less. In later years, I saw that the ’60s were not the norm, they were a historical time of turbulence. During other cicada emergences, things in our country were less contentious, quieter if you will. There were still problems, but society and the status quo, right or wrong, seemed reliable. Today, I am reminded of the turmoil of 1970.
The Neil Young song “Ohio,” written in response to the shootings at Kent State, will always conjure images in my mind and tears in my eyes of the four dead students lying on the ground. The events of Jan. 6, 2021, with a noose for Mike Pence and calls of “Nancy, where are you?” will also be with me forever. These too, are very scary times.
Meanwhile, the cicadas do their best to stay alive long enough to have sex and keep the species alive. As I listen to the sound of the cicadas’ singing, I am struck by their unison and the rhythmic ebb and flow of their song. Somehow it is soothing. It is the same song they were singing in 1970, when the world seemed it would explode. It didn’t. There is a comfort in thinking they will be back again in 2038, singing their song to a world that will have healed.
Melissa Falen (email@example.com) is an associate professor at Notre Dame of Maryland University.