It took me a moment this morning to realize I recognized the sound: the year’s first two 17-year cicadas. High in a 30-foot maple I'd just walked past, one cicada buzzed a 2-second vibrato and another buzzed back in a slightly higher tone. Hooray for them, I thought, and stopped to listen.
Three mornings ago on the same route to get coffee, I’d finally seen some cicada shells scattered on the sidewalks -- a hundred maybe, over the course of a 2-mile round trip. A couple of very warm days followed, and yesterday I'd estimated a thousand shells over the same route. I’d even seen live adults and been fascinated, again, by the shiny metallic green in their coloring -- the purest gold, I’d have guessed, if gold came in green.
But this morning, not much. For all I knew, the shells I did see were leftovers from yesterday. My neighborhood is in transition, its early-20th-century houses being torn down and, along with their yards, replaced by McMansions that fill 90% of each lot. Surely, the construction had disrupted the soil and the dormant cicada nymphs. Certainly, there was less yard space to provide the cicadas with a way out. Maybe this year’s emergence of the periodic bugs would be a bust.
But no! In the tree were two who’d made it out and were home free to spend the next month mating. The noise from just those two was impressive, impossible to ignore. And some black birds didn’t ignore it; perhaps a dozen landed in the tree within moments. The cicadas continued their back-and-forth buzzing and then I heard a quick movement and one of the birds squawked.
And then silence, and the birds flew away.