Last August, I had an encounter with a cicada and recorded my thoughts in this blog. With the return of the cicadas this summer, here are my thoughts on another encounter. 

As we walked through the yard outside our building, we noticed a cicada shell hanging from a tree branch. We had noticed a number of these abandoned shells over the past weeks, a sign that the cicada nymphs were emerging from their underground burrows to begin their adult lives above ground. Then, to our surprise, a little further up the branch was the cicada itself — its dark body and clear wings blending into the rough brown bark of the tree. It had only recently emerged from its childhood skin and was now resting on the branch. It was very still. What did it make of us, standing several feet away? It must have noticed us, in the way we animals all observe our environment. And when it saw us, what did it see? What meaning did it make of us? 

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I can imagine what it did not see. It did not perceive our status in human hierarchies. It did not see our family’s adjusted gross income. It did not see that we own the land on which it rested, and in fact it would not recognize such ownership. It did not see the coronavirus and the wrenching ways it has changed our lives — the cicada is not vulnerable to this disease. It did not see the systems of capitalism and neoliberal democracy in which we are embedded — those systems are meaningless to a cicada. Not meaningless because it lacks the ability to understand them, although perhaps it does, but ultimately meaningless because it has no need for them.

Perhaps the cicada saw us simply as fellow creatures. It had most likely never seen anything like us before. Maybe it didn’t know whether we posed any danger, so it rested, wary and alert, gathering strength in its new body, feeling the growing energy in its new wings. 

When we looked back at the tree several minutes later, the cicada was gone, but soon we heard the growing chorus of cicadas buzzing high in the trees above us, the sound that defines a summer evening here. Was this cicada part of the din? We hoped so.

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