Cicada Song

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Photo by user Kstern via Wikimedia

Waking up at dawn in a cage surrounded by 47 large black buzzing, trilling, flying insects may seem like a nightmare to you, but for me, it is heaven. The cage is a mosquito net hung from the ceiling and envelops my entire bed.

My name is Xu Xiao Yu (you know me know as Katherine). This spring, I am seven. My sister, Xiao Hu (Little Tiger), is ten. Yesterday, we spent all day searching in the woods surrounding our home in Chong-ging. We were looking for a bush with long branches.  We found one, broke off two branches, and then removed all the leaves until we were left with a long bendable switch. We made these into loops and wrapped them around the end of broom sticks to create an oval frame. For the next hour, we hunted through the woods and sheds looking for large spider webs. When we found some, we leaned the loops onto the webs, one web after another, until our loops were filled with enough of the sticky layers of spider webs to make a screen.

Then our hunt began. We carried a cloth bag in one hand, and with the other hand we carried our poles with the sticky circles on top, listening for the beautiful sounds of the cicadas. As soon as we spotted one on a tree trunk, we would reach up and place our sticky loop onto its back. The cicada’s wings were then stuck onto the web. We lowered the poles, pulle the cicada off, and placed it in our bag.

All day we filled our bag with these treasures, admiring the three little diamonds on the insects’ heads, as well as the shiny wings with intricate designs. Gently, we placed them inside the mosquito net back in my bedroom.

Mosquito net similar to the one that surrounded my bed. (Photo from Wikimedia)

The songs they produced warmed our hearts, but they drove our servants mad. Some cicadas were too young to capture. We watched them emerge from their tan crusty shells, with their tender light green wings gently unfurling, stretching out in the fresh air to dry. It must have felt wonderful to be out of the dark earth and into the bright and beautiful world. That must be why they sing.

 It is now 2021 and I am 83. Whole swarms of cicadas are expected to emerge any day now, after 17 years of sleep in their dark underground home. They will come out full voiced to announce the joy of being out and about.

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!” they will be singing, and I will sing the song with them.

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Katherine Haas taught at Key School in Annapolis for 43 years. She now spends her time enjoying the arts with her husband, teaching Chinese, learning Spanish, working part-time at Key as a Storyteller, and engaging in progressive activism.

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