The cicadas aren't the only invaders with us now. More than 100,000 students from across the nation descend on Washington at about this time every year, most on eighth-grade trips. Like the less-frequently sighted cicadas, they are numerous and noisy, and they do no harm.

As a tour guide I find working with these groups exhilarating. The young people love our great capital, especially when I explain to them that they own it.

"If that's my building," one young visitor said of the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover Building, "I think it needs redecorating."

Some questions I've been asked over the years:

* "The National Mall? Is it a large shopping area?"

* On the large typewriter eraser in the Sculpture Garden: "What is it?"

* "Did you know that the [Washington] Cathedral has Darth Vader on the outside to scare off all evil?"

* "How many stones" in the Washington Monument?

* After looking at the inscription of the Second Inaugural Address on the Lincoln Memorial: "Did the carver made a mistake? Is it 'Euture' "?

* At the Library of Congress: "Where are the books? Can I check one out?"

* "What is the difference between a monument and a memorial?" (No answer from me.)

* At Arlington National Cemetery: "Where did the 21-gun salute originate?" (Long story.)

* "Look at the sharpshooters on the roof of the White House. If I put my hand through the fence will they shoot?"

And comments:

* "Awesome," about the 9-million-pound iron dome of the Capitol.

* "That is sad," about a name on the wall at the Vietnam Memorial. "I found a cross and diamond together with a name. He was missing and then found dead."

* "I stood in the bread line" at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. "I tried to look sad and hungry."

* "At least I can say I saw the Declaration of Independence, though it was too hard to read. It was so dark in that building," at the Archives.

* "That is so true today" about the inscription "Freedom Is Not Free" at the Korean War Memorial.

These young people love the stories I tell them about our beautiful capital city. They are happy to be in Washington. To them everything is normal because they have no conception of what it was like before all the barricades and security. The history here remains the same.

These young people are patient about waiting in the long lines to get through security at each building. One young man told me that he particularly liked his special tour of the White House but that he had to hold up his pants the entire time. His teacher had been told that no belts with metal in them were allowed inside the White House and thus required students to leave their belts on the bus.

These young guests of our city come to Washington from all points of the compass and by bus, train and plane. They come from rural areas, small towns and big cities, and each group is unique. Take a good look at these young visitors visiting here this month. You will be looking at our nation's future.

-- Polly deButts

is a licensed

Washington tour guide.