Tuesday, June 14, 2011


IN BIRDLAND THE CICADAS SING their buzz-saw songs. Ode to an Outboard Motor is my favorite. I remember a cicada visitation a long time ago. This year's emergence may even be the same clan. I'll have to do the math. My niece and nephew (now 19 and 20) were small and they were on an overnight visit to the farm. It was the same visit when I bribed them with the promise of waffles for breakfast to get through the entire night without crying for their mama. Instead of waking every hour or so to lull them back to sleep with reassurances that they'd see my sister in the morning, I woke to small voices calling into my bedroom “Aunt Mary? Aunt Mary! We didn't cry!” Monica was holding her brother's hand and Justin looked hopefully up at me. It was still dark, but I was so grateful for the uninterrupted sleep. What would you do? I jumped out of bed and fixed them waffles. After breakfast I sent them outside and they came running back to show me the bug they had found. It was the size of Monica's thumb, white with maraschino cherry red eyes. It looked like a model of a cicada carved delicately out of cream cheese. It wasn't moving much. I had never seen anything like it.

We three went out to investigate and found them all over the yard, climbing out of little holes in the earth. I had never seen a cicada commencement, and the rest of the morning we watched while they kept ascending from their quiet, underground chambers. Over the next few hours they gained color and voice, and the use of their wings, and the three of us left whatever mundane activities I had planned to wander around the yard and wonder at the sheer number and volume of their songs. I haven't witnessed this magical event since then, either. This year by the time I noticed the cicadas, they were already on the wing. Constellations of perfectly round holes in the dry earth give witness to their origin. It's something, isn't it, to be buried for so long, like Rip Van Winkle, not knowing what you will find when you come out? I wonder how deeply they burrow and what might disturb their rest. Will new subdivisions destroy whole colonies? I imagine the plowing in the fields displaced whole populations long ago. I don't know if my small diggings in the yard bother them. I hope not too much.
Yesterday the cicadas' song provided background music to my visit with my high school friend, Valerie from California. Although it was hot, it was lovely to sit under the umbrella at my little picnic table, sipping iced tea and catching up. She told me about her travels and her California home, and I showed her the beginnings of my summer project: to visit each corner of my house one by one, and give it a thorough cleaning and “ridding out.” (Our friend, Nancy, once told me that her grandfather used the term “rid out” to mean getting getting rid of things you don't need, as in “rid out the drawers.”) I began with my grandfather's tool shelf, which now lives in my kitchen and holds books and curiosities. I pulled it from the alcove Michael had built around it so many years ago to find great clots of dust and cobwebs. I also found 26 cents and a plastic green marble-shaped gremlin. How satisfying to vacuum back there, to rub orange oil into the baseboards behind it, even though they'll be hidden til next time I rid out that kitchen corner. The shelf has chipped and crackled sea-green paint, and I thought about my grandfather who built it. I made myself part with several of the books and a box of trinkets. Mostly the shelf is a museum to artifacts we've found in the yard: a headless, armless china doll, spoons, a brass bell, a tin whistle encrusted with corrosion. It is good, once a year to revisit all the corners of my life, to contemplate what buoys me up and what drags me down.

Cherish Beauty; Contemplate Peace; Blessed Be.

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