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Ode to the cicada: you came, you mated, you expired | READER COMMENTARY

Brood X cicadas are seen among leaves after a mid-day rain. June 9, 2021.
Brood X cicadas are seen among leaves after a mid-day rain. June 9, 2021. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

To a cicada (not a louse)

With all due respect to the Scottish poet Robert Burns and the end of the cicadas as explored in “Maryland has passed the point of peak cicadas. How much longer will they last?” (June 11):

The trees are suddenly quiet;

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The cicadas have all gone.

Having ended their 17-year riot,

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And left us leaves out on the lawn.

The rusted ends of the summer trees,

Now tell us that they mated.

They came and went just as they pleased,

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Not knowing they were fated.

In 2038, will I be here,

To witness their return?

I guess and hope and sometimes fear,

If such a fate I’ll earn.

For both man and bug live and die,

And share the earth,

Not knowing why,

There’s love and death — and birth.

Thomas Ponton, Columbia

Loud, smelly, odd-looking and sacred

They were loud, they smelled, they looked odd, our dog ate them. The media had prepared us for them, letting us know that their 17-year hibernation was coming to an end and that our yards would be inundated by these unique insects. Their long wait between appearances is a survival technique. No predator can depend on them as a source of food. Without their long dormancy the species probably would have disappeared centuries ago. But they are here thanks to nature’s gift. Nature is awesome in the way she lures species to new levels of survival adaptation. We humans are no exception — perhaps we have been too good at survival so that nature feels the need to remind us, with tiny viruses, that we too are vulnerable to that delicate balance.

The laws of nature have fostered a diverse display of life around the earth, from sea cows to mosquitoes, from tigers to toads, from Oak trees to Kudzu. And if we are to believe the stories of nature all life that is or ever was, was once one — one cell of life somewhere on this planet eons ago. Nature’s creativity, nature’s big bang, took that cell and created an awesome diversity of life. Who could have imagined it?

So I listen to the noise of the cicadas, feel their aroma in my nose, watch as one lights on my shirt, and I know: They are my cousins — distant cousins. We had a common ancestor and thus there is a bond that I feel between us. We, both of us, are part of something greater than either of us, greater than either of our small minds can fully comprehend. I am standing on holy ground, and I realized that I am privileged to experience this moment. I stand in awe before the power that has led all species to their current place in our biosphere. And I wonder, does the cicada on my shirt share this reverence? I think she does.

Woody Eddins, Ellicott City

The Cicada Odyssey

Dead on the driveway,

On the car,

And on my collar.

Falling from the tender leaves

Of trees

After the drum beating,

Heart-throbbing insurrection

From the subterranean spaces

To the surface.

And from the surface

To the canopies

After the daily, early morning, raucous shouting,

And the sibilant late afternoon chorus.

After the erotic fervor

Invested in the propagation

Of their species,

After ovipositing genes,

Cicadas are everywhere,

Dead from mating fatigue.

From eggs to nymphs,

Burrowing and staying

As monuments of patience

Sucking on roots in places

Where photons do not flow.

The stridency recedes

For 17 years of quarantine,

And in an unpredictable and violent world,

I am solaced

By the regularity and reliability

Of the cicadas’ love making cyclicity.

Usha Nellore, Bel Air

How magical has been our time with Brood X

I was so glad to read Stuart Miller’s letter celebrating the cicadas’ brief time on earth (“Can we not begrudge cicadas their six weeks of adult life?” June 17). What an honor it is, considering what heroic lives the cicadas endured underground for 17 long years — and then to burst forth into the sun.

The periodic cicadas go way back and are a phenomenon not found everywhere in the world, but limited to this country’s East Coast and Great Plains states. In an article, “Magic of the Magicicada,” published in 1748, Swedish naturalist Pehr Kalm traveled to North America to observe the 1749 emergence of Brood X we are experiencing here now. He found remarkable to find them emerge one day when on the previous day, none were to be found. Their lives are truly a miracle and we are privileged to witness them and take inspiration from them.

Their genus, Magicicada, sums it up — they are magic. In this genus, there are three species to Brood X: septendecim, septendecula and the cassini. All have ruby red eyes and cellophane ribbed, transparent wings “of summer.” The big and medium septendecim and septendecula, whose songs I was unable to discern, have gaily striped stomachs. The smaller, all black Cassinis are regular songsters with a variety of warming up ticks and clicks before ascending into their wailing song. Margaretta Hare Morris in 1846 described it thus: their “call is quite different from the loud prolonged scream of the bigger species, and always begins with an introductory clip clip quite peculiar.”

The three species do not interbreed. The bigger ones seem to prefer hills, while the cassinis seem to prefer lowlands, but they’re also found all together, and I like driving past woods along the Baltimore Beltway where they are in full chorus and deafening. It’s like we’ve all been living through a documentary, like BBC’s “Earth: One Amazing Day,” except we’ve been privileged to have it extended to an amazing few weeks. To me, their song is a song of summer making anytime they emerge, like this summer, a promise of a magic summer.

Thanks to Mr. Miller, for writing a beautiful reminder about how precious the cicadas are and for setting the example to his daughter and granddaughter to turn them over when they find them helpless and struggling on their backs. I, too, pick them up and help them, and it’s been so gratifying to toss the strong ones high up in the air and watch them fly away in the sun on their missions, some of them clicking what could be a thank-you to me. Or to put the weaker ones on tree trunks to cling for safety until they get their strength back to fly again.

I, too, learned to love all creatures and practice “gentle treatment of all living things in nature” from my mother who, like Mr. Miller, offered them by example so that these traits are now simply part of us. I wish all families would do the same. Think what a magical world it would be!

Mary Beth Malooly, Baltimore

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