Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Song of the Cicada


Do you know the legend about cicadas?
They say they are the souls of poets who cannot keep quiet because, when they were alive, they never wrote the poems they wanted to.
~ John Berger ~

It seems the annual cicadas begin singing their song earlier in the summer each year.  When I was growing up, it was said that once you heard the cicadas, it was six weeks till first frost. While I love these expressions from the world of phenology, experience shows that it's not true.

The cicadas have been droning loudly for many weeks now, just one more piece of the puzzle that is this summer. Nearly everything occurring two to three weeks ahead of schedule makes us wonder what autumn will bring.

When everyone was here on Sunday, we talked about how loud the cicadas were.  They have a decibel rating of 90-100, with some species reaching 120 dB.  For comparison, a jackhammer is rated at 80 dB and a rock concert at 120 dB.  

Standing under one of our large oak trees when the cicadas are at full volume is deafening.  It makes you want to put your fingers in your ears.  Yet, it's a strangely comforting sound at the same time. A midwestern summer wouldn't be summer without it. Just as it wouldn't be without the sounds of the crickets and frogs in the middle of a warm dark night.



There are two kinds of cicadas here in Ohio. The annual cicada, which shows up every year and the periodical cicada, which emerges every 13 or 17 years. The last invasion of the periodical cicadas here in NW Ohio was in 2004, when Brood X made its appearance.  I'll never forget getting off the plane in Cincinnati that summer and seeing so many cicadas on the tarmac and even inside the terminal.

I grew up calling these noisy things "locusts." It wasn't until I was much older that I realized what we called locusts were really cicadas.  Locusts are a species of large brown/gray grasshoppers that can chew through plants like nobody's business. (Think: locust plagues of the Bible.)

If you live where the cicadas sing, you know what I'm talking about and just how loud and noisy they can be. If you don't, listen to ours, as I recorded them in our oak tree in our backyard this past weekend. This will give you an idea of what it sounds like pretty much all day long.  When darkness falls, they stop and give the frogs and crickets center stage.








8 comments:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a fun post Kylee. Great photos of the cicadas. It was so nice seeing (and hearing) a bit of your garden on video.

joey said...

Nice capture, Kylee. Noisy here too (provided the background chorus last night for daughter's alfresco dinner). Love it and also find it summer comforting. Happy August :)

Nancy said...

For me, down here in Houston, I think of it as the song of summer...

jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

Quite a chorus of songsters, Kylee! They're pretty bizarre looking, too, but kind of wonderful. We don't have them up here, just some species that sort of squeals a highpitched whine like a table saw. I must find out what it is.

TC said...

But when I signed in using my Blogger account and posted a comment, it didn't lose it! ARRGGHH!!

Anyway, what I said in the lost comment cannot ever be recovered to the extent of its original tone, but I'll try to repeat most of what I said in this one.

We have cicadas here in western PA. When I was a boy in Kentucky we'd catch them and put them in jars and call them "jar flies." Not really, but they are known as jar flies in some dialects of the peasantry. Mom calls them heat bug because they holler when it's hot. Their song is rather melancholy to me, it signals that Jack Frost isn't too far away, and we all know what that means...

Commonweeder said...

I love the song of the cicadas. When we lived in Beijing their song was at operatic levels. During the UN Women's Conference in 1995 one of the NPR radio reporters visited us, and she spent a little time recording the song of the cicadas to provide the transitions between her story segments. I always think of her walking through the courtyard holding up her microphone.

TC said...

Hi Ms. Kylee,

I tried commenting on this post several days ago using my iPhone but Blogger wouldn't allow it to go through for some reason. And what's even worse is my comment didn't get saved! It was a good one too, at least I thought it was. Oh well....

I was using my iPhone because my computer kept shutting down on me without warning. But the problem has been solved - I got a new system! So now I'm back to regular appearances!

We're hearing the cicadas (or "heat bugs" as Mom calls them) here too. But for me, it's a melancholy song because it means Jack Frost isn't too far away!

TC said...

I'm commenting again to let you know that Blogger isn't accepting my comments unless I'm signed in to my Google account. I'm wondering if you or anyone here (or there) are having trouble leaving comments signed in on their WordPress or other blog account?

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