And the swarm descended

I had this thought as I walked on the National Mall today:

There’s something alike in the methods and the madness of the tourists and the periodical cicadas.

Consider it: both emerge at the outset of summer, although the cicadas have the decency to stay away sixteen years out of every seventeen.

It appears that they share a survival strategy: namely, being too numerous to eliminate. Both amble in packs across streets slowly and against the light, ambling awkwardly, veering into traffic, apparently daring cars and bikes and other pedestrians to collide with them. They find safety in numbers. And that’s just the cicadas!

But there’s something optimistic about both of them. Both look to the future. The cicadas awaken to mate furiously and create enough larva to emerge once again next time. They won’t live to see it.

Meanwhile the tourists wander around with their phones out taking selfies with every statue and building and every member of their group so that they will have proof that they were here, long after their footprints on the mall dissipate in the rain under the cicada husks.

The boy in the stroller thought it was scenic.

I get grumpy sometimes on my afternoon walks when the trail is too loud and treeless in this semi-industrial place where I live. I just wish it were scenic.

But then I realize that it is scenic to some people. It’s not scenic to me because I’m an adult woman fixated on trees and quiet. I’m not that little boy in his stroller, who is fixated with his mouth agape at the big machinery moving gravel. His mother points at the forklifts and the diggers, the cranes and haulers. He stares in rapturous awe at the toys he plays with on his bedroom floor come to immense life.

It’s scenic to him.

He’d probably find a tree-lined quiet path dead boring.

Consider the cicada

I, too, long to lie down next to a tree and sleep. I, too, want to wait to emerge until 17 years later, and only then to scream a lot and make love once, then die in the grass.

(There are many ways to live a good life, and that one doesn’t sound too terrible.)

While it’s underground, does the cicada count how many times it freezes and how many times it thaws? Does it draw tick-marks on the wall of its dirt lair until it has enough, and then began digging out in a rush of adrenaline?

Does the cicada get senioritis in year 16, longing to be done with this embarrassing larval stage?

Does it remember what life was like 17 years ago when it buried itself? My neighborhood was very different then, and as a result we have few cicadas. How many millions of them went to sleep in 2004, dreaming of 2021, only to be fatally plowed under in 2015 when they dug the foundation for a new condominium?

Does 2021 look quite different to the cicada than it remembers? Does it look different than it expected? Does the cicada get nostalgic for the way things were when it was a wee larva?

Does it take a look around and wiggle its thorax to feel the sun and the breeze on its exoskeleton, basking in how short the time is?