Brood X makes me happy. My son has passed the stage of digging for cicadas in the dirt. My daughter, however, is not happy to have them at her bus stop, and several friends shiver at their mention.
But I like them for the chance they offer to connect with others, to talk about something other than the weather or the awful news from Iraq. As my son and I walked to school the other day, observing the carcasses that littered the sidewalk, we talked to two phone technicians watching cicadas climb a utility pole.
And I like cicadas for their deter- mination. Their calls compete with road noise and machines. I've seen them on utility poles, on my screens and on fences. They come on a schedule that evolved during the Pleistocene Age, a schedule that has nothing to do with us.
They are a sign of hope -- not as beautiful, perhaps, as a daffodil coming out of the ground in spring or a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, but still a sign.
So, while I may forgo sandals to avoid contact with dead cicadas on the sidewalks, I'm glad they are here.
The cicadas have arrived, but you shouldn't panic. They don't bite, sting, kill your tomato plants or eat your bulbs. They will, however, be everywhere, so try to keep your pets and children from eating too many of them. Cover the pond and skim the pool daily.
Pick up lawn objects that would prevent the cicadas' emergence from the ground. Don't spray them with pesticides, which are ineffective against the sheer numbers expected.
LEWIS R. RILEY
Maryland Department of Agriculture
My first cicada event was in 1953 in Arlington. I recall being offended by my cat's appetite for the repulsive creatures, as both toy and snack. The subsequent invasions, in 1970 and 1987, have been more inconvenient than repugnant to me. But since that last round, I have become a preschool teacher and see everything from the view of a 3-year-old. When I led my class on a recent hunt for the visitors, I was impressed with how accepting most of the children were of these docile transients.
As we prowled around tree trunks, I was distressed to see a number of deformed cicadas. I wondered if these mysterious visitors could be a way to study changes in our environment every 17 years.
I do not aspire to be the Rachel Carson of this species, but I was affected when my charges expressed compassion for the bent-winged and deformed bugs struggling on their outstretched palms. I was thinking about not only the cicadas of 2021 but the students of 2021. Is the cicada our canary in the mine shaft?
While studying my family genealogy, I discovered that one of my ancestors had an encounter with cicadas in Plymouth Colony. In her book "The Mayflower," Kate Caffrey wrote, "In May 1633, Plymouth had a plague of locusts." Described as flies as large as wasps, the locusts "came out of holes in the ground and swarmed through the woods, where they ate the green things and made such a constant yelling noise as made all the woods ring of them, and ready to deaf the hearers. The Indians said sickness would follow. It did. All through June, July and August the smallpox raged. More than twenty died, including Thomas Blossom and Richard Masterson."
Blossom was my ancestor. This is certainly a rare attribution of human death to their periodic hatch.
WILLIAM P. WINTER