Sunday, May 30, 2021

No Escape

 A long time ago (17 YEARS AGO, in fact), our family lived for a year in Rhode Island, where Larry was pursuing a master's degree. It was a hard year, in general - I mean, picture it: we had 5 kids, ages 1-12, in tow and no support network, nothing. Just us in a 150-year-old house with no neighbors to speak of and a yard that my kids didn't seem to understand how to use, as there were no "other kids" in it. The toddler (that would have been Rachel) was at the age where the sight of books neatly lined up on shelves produced a compunction to REMOVE THEM ALL, so trips to the library or the bookstore were hardly relaxing. 

Oh, we made the best of it - we dragged them to every historical museum/display/site within a 2-hour radius (shout out to the New Bedford Visiting Center - best bathrooms ever!), took them to Mystic Seaport where the two oldest took (incredibly cheap) sailing lessons, and in general tried to make the most out of the opportunity of temporarily living in a different place. I made connections among the Navy spouses and homeschoolers in the town, so there were even a few social opportunities for the kids. And, of course, I managed to get all 5 kids to the beach a few days a week while the weather stayed nice.

Its being New England, though, the weather turned cold fairly early on. All the tourist places shut down. It was an abnormally frigid winter, with the thermometer repeatedly reading ZERO DEGREES when we checked it each morning. It started feeling like Groundhog's Day - the same thing, over and over and over. The kids were super, playing day after day with duct tape and craft sticks and tin foil and homemade playdoh, but it wasn't easy. I was terribly homesick for our friends, our neighborhood full of kids, my own house.

But then May 2004 rolled around. Spring arrived where we were, and at home? CICADAS. Masses of bug-eyed (naturally) creatures emerging from the ground and covering the trees, creating a sound so loud that my best friend couldn't hear me if she was on the phone outside. And for the first time during that long year in exile, I was grateful. Grateful I wasn't stuck in our house with several crying children who didn't like bugs. Grateful for the beautiful New England spring we were finally experiencing. And in no hurry whatsoever to return until all the bugs were gone, which they were by the time we got home, after mid-June.

I made a vow all those years ago. May 2021 would find me on a fun cross-country trip, visiting friends as I toured across anywhere in this great land of ours that wasn't covered in cicadas. Most of my kids would be fully grown by then and living elsewhere, so maybe I could even stay with some of them. As 2021 drew closer, I made a list of places to visit, friends to see. I was all set.

That is, until COVID shut the world down and turned me from an almost empty nester to having a full house again. Here I was in April 2021, in a world where out-of-town guests were not necessarily welcome, sitting in my most emphatically not-empty house, essentially trapped before the coming onslaught. TRAPPED.

In desperation, I booked a week at an Airbnb in Burlington, VT, for mid-May. It wasn't enough, but it was something. I looked up when the cicadas emerged last time and planned around that. Maybe, I thought, I'd miss the worst of it.

Burlington was beautiful and (mostly) bug free

Wouldn't you know it? The cicadas were late this year. They pretty much greeted Larry and Susie and I as we got out of our car - you know, when we came back from spending all that money to avoid them. And here I am, living with these damn bugs. Look, I know many people suffered worse losses as a result of COVID-19 - jobs, family members, friends - but dammit, COVID destroyed this 17-year-old plan of mine to escape the cicadas and I can't quite get over it.

The Saturday after we got back, Larry swept (I'm sorry, did I say swept? I meant SHOVELED) all the cicadas off our back patio. I looked out the back door on Sunday and saw this:

They just keep coming up out of the ground, ew

There are so very, very many of them. They seem to love the color blue:

Larry's in charge of recycling/trash for the foreseeable future

I've been fine with the sound, which surprises me. But as the shells and the dead cicadas decompose on the sidewalks and parking lot, they release the most sickening smell. I tried sweeping out our spots, so at least I wouldn't have to walk on them as I got into the car, but after 10 minutes I felt so sick I had to go inside.

I'm not having fun, is what I'm saying. The cicadas are now at the point where we can watch them swooping in and out among the tree canopy, for all the world like drunken spring break revelers, with some of them - seemingly inebriated by the excitement of it all - falling out of the trees onto the ground (if we're lucky) or sometimes onto our heads (OMG, EWWW).

There's such a thing as cicada pee. I wish I didn't know that.

So, yeah, I was going to tell you all about Mother's Day and the Burlington trip and Susie's birthday (she's 16, my baby's 16, I can't stand it), but I had to get all this off my chest first. I'm mostly spending my time rewatching Schitt's Creek and pretending the outdoors doesn't exist. And trying not to think about the destruction of a cherished 17-year-old dream...


  1. You should come to Harrisonburg. I haven't seen a single cicada.

  2. OMG they are so gross! Thank you for sharing what it's really like. Most people make it sounds like a wonderful natural occurrence to witness. I would lock myself in the house and wouldn't come out until they were gone. Thankful I'm on Florida and not in their path!

    1. It was a wonderful natural phenomenon to witness for, oh, 36 hours. Now it's just getting really old.

  3. Okay. I didn't know what was the proper response on my part: laugh? cry? pity? So I went with all three. And it is a very good story. ❤

  4. All I can is is ewww! We have canker worms that dangle from the elm trees in the spring - they are small, green and make no noise (until you step on them...again ewww). I'm not sure I could survive cicadas. That would be a real lockdown.

  5. A nightmare come to life. I'm so sorry that you didn't get to realize this dream. I hope these creatures are out of your hair soon!

  6. Eww, eww, eww! I'm sorry your 17 year plan didn't pan out...but, on the upside (?) you have another 17 years for the next plan. (Yeah, not much consolation for the now though).

  7. That's just...eww so sorry

  8. What an adventure your year in Rhode Island sounds like. You sure made the best of it. I moved around in the Midwest as a kid and I do sometimes feel like Coach and I missed out on not experiencing relocation, even if temporary. How organized of you to map out a way to avoid the cicadas 17 years in advance. Sorry your plan was foiled. Why the color blue? They are gross. They were bad here back when Lad was about 9 years old, so 2007? I don't think there was any shoveling though. Yuck.

  9. Horrible---OMG OMG OMG
    They are supposed to show up here in Georgia but I've not seen one yet. Thank goodness. I hope they don't last long where you are.

  10. I'm not sure I could take that! Hopefully they won't be around much longer.

  11. Next time swing by Milwaukee. I haven't heard a single cicada yet. (And my brother the entomologist with trade places with you in a heartbeat!)

  12. You over shot the mark. I'm in SE Massachusetts... no cicadas.

    Although, full disclosure, we're in the middle of a heat wave, so I'm spending most of my free time hiding in the house from the humidity. Seriously, it's even too hot for boobs.

  13. Definitely witnesses the phenomenon of the 1 year old clearing anything (VHS tapes) off shelves.

    We do not have local cicadas, but we went for a drive, and the noise of the cicadas made me think we were having engine trouble.

    Instead of sweeping, I suggest a battery powered leaf blower. It makes it less personal and less effort. [Father's Day is coming. I keep buying more batteries and more battery powered tools. Ryobi at Home Depot.]

  14. Geez. I figured a plague of bugs came with some drawbacks (we have a giant lakefly hatch every spring in Wisconsin, mostly around Lake Winnebago--you cannot even be outside during that week on the water, the smell is horrific, too), but this is the first I've read about the specifics. Cicada PEE? Wow.
    I bet they are a huge mess. And what awful luck to happen on them all over again!.

  15. Happy birthday.