The newspaper articles so far have completely missed the point: "That Plague of Locusts Is Just Cicadas," said The Washington Post, as if anyone who is genuinely terrified of enormous flying bugs cares what you call them. "17-year Locusts: Ugly but Relatively Harmless," announced the Fairfax Journal.
The first time I had to live through an invasion of these allegedly harmless cicadas was in 1966, shortly after the birth of my first child. I remember hearing the singing sound in the trees for days before the first attack. I had no idea what the noise was, only that as days went by, it got louder. Then horrid-looking black bugs started appearing. One day I walked out by the kitchen to check on the baby, who was sleeping soundly under netting in his carriage. There on the net was a giant locust.
For the first time, I had to make a terrible choice between my own life and that of my child. Should I run into the house and hope the monster wouldn't get near the baby or should I try to drive the beast away long enough to rescue the child? Locusts are true tests of a mother's love. They also test a mother's memory. I vividly remember seeing the bug on the netting. I do not remember whether I responded to this imminent threat to my firstborn with pure courage or sheer cowardice.
Next came the invasion of 1974, which The Washington Post described yesterday as "more noticeable here in the inner suburbs." That may be the understatement of the year. They swarmed all over the place. They crawled along the trunks of trees, they hid under the leaves, they crouched among the plants near the house. At night, when we'd be sitting outside trying to have dinner, they would divebomb the picnic table. I moved inside for the duration of the invasion, emerging only to get into the car.
One day, we were approaching the George Washington Parkway in a yellow MGB convertible (with the top up.) All of a sudden, a horde of locusts appeared out of nowhere and attacked the front windshield. I remember screaming and then yelling that the locusts were coming into the car and trying desperately to close the windows. That I am alive today is due solely to the fact that my husband was driving the car, not I.
After that, we bought a station wagon. With air conditioning.
The creatures that arrived this week are the products of eggs laid in the 1966 invasion, but one newspaper article quoted a horticultural technician as saying that he had no idea how many there would be. The Post said this brood--known as brood 6--is not considered large, but that, I submit, is entirely up to who is doing the considering. The creatures will sing, mate, lay eggs and die. They're not supposed to damage trees but, frankly, the trees right now are the last thing on my mind.
Yesterday morning, Becky, the college student who lives with us and helps take care of the plants as well as the children, announced that locusts had attached themselves to house plants that were summering under the maple trees near the deck. "I am not going near the plants. They have got to be this big," she said, holding her fingers about six inches apart. She was not describing the house plants. "I will not water the plants until they have been sprayed with insecticide."
I did not have the heart to tell her that I didn't think insecticide would kill the locusts.
Obviously, if the locusts have invaded the house plants under the trees, they are lurking in the trees, ready to attach themselves to anyone venturing out on the deck during the next six weeks. I am certainly not going to go out on our deck and I'm not going to allow any of my children under the size of 6 feet to go out there either. In fact, I may very well not go outside at all.
Locusts do not bring out the best in people who are terrified of bugs, something only other entomophobes can truly understand. My children probably could handle getting locusts on them far better than I could. My daughter has been fascinated with bugs lately. But 17 years and two children after the first invasion, I know that there's nothing harmless about locusts at all. I'm worried about them getting on my house plants and I'm worried about them getting on my children.
But most of all, I'm worried about them getting on me.