Maggie A's Meanderings




 Sept 8, 2013

The Suburban Wilds --
Cicada Cacophony

One quiet night I jumped in my chair startled by an explosion of sound --- a loud rattling noise whose origin I couldn't even begin to imagine how it had come from my house. It was with trepidation that I got up to see what had happened. There on the floor of my entryway I saw a large insect that made my heart simultaneously pound and sink. It was a cicada. Cicadas are the loudest insects in the world. And I remembered my last experience with a cicada. It had been years, but it was a memory that time could not dim.......

I was sitting in my living room just watching TV when out of the summer night this loud noise started. And by loud, I mean L-O-U-D. I couldn't hear the TV over the noise. I turned the TV up........and up..........and up some more. It was only when I had the volume maxed out that I could hear the TV clearly over the noise. I tried watching the TV, but the volume of it was giving me a throbbing headache. Yet when I turned the TV off and tried to read I couldn't read for the noise --- it was a constant buzz that became almost a chirping. (Possibly Tibicen resonans - click for a very annoying sound.) It had to be a cicada as no other insect else can produce that volume of sound. And it sounded like the damn bug was right there on my back porch. All that evening I put up with the noise, but then it came time to sleep ---- for me, not the cicada as it was still chirping as loud and as incessantly as ever. Supposedly cicadas sing during the day, not at night. But whoever believes that should come to my neighborhood on summer nights. Maybe it's all the lights that keeps them singing. I didn't know, and I didn't care. I only cared that there was one cicada making way too much noise too close to my house, and it showed no signs of shutting up. I put in earplugs, but they didn't do much to lessen the noise. I stuck the pillow over my head, but still I could hear the sound. I finally got up and turned on the back porch light.

Silence. Golden silence. At last I could sleep. But about 10 minutes later, it started up again. So I got up and turned off the back porch light. Again silence. For about another 10 minutes. I discovered that changing the illumination level would get me about 10 minutes of silence until the cicada got used to the new level of light or dark. But I couldn't stand there all night turning the light on or off every time the cicada started again.

When I got home the next day, I didn't think much about the previous long night. I figured it was an aberration ---  a problem bug who happened to land in an inconvenient spot. Again I was peacefully watching TV that night when the same noise started. This time I went out back determined to find and kill that damn bug. It was either right there on my porch or somewhere close to it. I figured I could use the noise to locate the bug. But, of course, as soon as I turned on the porch light, it stopped. I went through everything on the porch, but couldn't find any bug. That meant it had to be in the yard close to the porch. I went back into the house and came out armed with a flashlight in one hand and a can of insecticide in the other.

Have you ever tried to find a single bug in your yard at night with a flashlight? When that bug might be hidden up in the branches of a tree or behind a plank of the fence or clinging to the shrubbery? I don't think it can be done. I certainly couldn't do it.

After a few nights of this I was lying there in misery. I was beyond fantasies of helicopters coming with Agent Orange to defoliate my backyard. I just lay there: limp, apathetic and listless. My state of mind would be equivalent to that experiment where repeated electric shocks are given to subjects who can't stop them: after a while the subjects just gave up into a kind of learned helplessness --- nothing they could do would change the situation. That was me with the cicada. All I could say after that experience is that anyone who thinks that prolonged sleep deprivation combined with loud, non-stop noise is not torture is someone who's never lived through it. If I had had any national security secrets, I would have spilled them in a heartbeat in exchange for some peace, quiet and a good night's sleep. This torment lasted for most of a week before it stopped as suddenly as it started.

It was an experience that left me with, not a phobia of cicadas, but let's say they weren't on my list of favorite insects. And now, years later, I was looking at a cicada that had flown through my open door and landed in my house with a noise loud enough to make me jump in my chair. Still, it's roaches, biting mosquitoes and fleas that I (try to) kill on sight. So, instead of killing it, I grabbed a broom and got the cicada to latch onto the broom straws and took it back outside. I carefully closed the door behind me before I shook the bug off the broom. Then I turned around to go back into the house. As soon as I opened the door, the cicada flew straight back into the house as if it had been shot out of a cannon. Instead of landing on the floor again, this time it went up to the ceiling in a light fixture where I couldn't get to it.

The phrase that went through my head at that moment was "No good deed goes unpunished." I should have just killed the damn thing when I had the chance. Now it was loose flying around my house making some kind of god-awful racket that sounded as if someone had started a piece of power equipment like a chainsaw in my house. As I futilely chased the bug around the ceiling, I thought how people who complained about having a cricket in the house would like having a cicada in the house. A cricket is nothing compared to a cicada.

I didn't catch the cicada and after I while I noticed the obvious --- it wasn't making that noise. Most of the time it was quiet. So I gave up on trying to kill it. as it had latched to highest point of my vaulted ceiling. I went back to the computer which was where I was when this whole thing started. Mostly it was silence, but everyone once in a while there would be that explosion of sound again. I went to sleep that night and slept peacefully except when I'd suddenly be awakened by the cicada, my heart jumping out of my chest, thinking the house was falling down around me. It was louder than any alarm clock and I could attest to its effectiveness in waking a person. But the important thing was that I could sleep between the bouts of ear-splitting racket.

And the even more important thing was the cicada died the very next day as I found its body on a window sill.


drawing of cicada

For more "Suburban Wilds," read "Creepy, Crawly Cockroaches," "Wild Treasures of Beauty Near My Home -- Part 1" or the original "The Suburban Wilds."

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