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Poor Will's Almanack: May 26 – June 1, 2020

R.A. Killmer
Flickr Creative Commons

If this were the year 2021 instead of 2020, the seventeen-year cicadas would be emerging  all around the park close to where I live. Sixteen years ago, I found them after work when I stopped by the woods and made my way along the path above the river.

Under the low, two-foot canopy of touch-me-nots and wood nettles I found the elusive insects. They had just emerged from the ground and were resting quietly all around, waiting for me. They were an inch or two in length. Their wings were shiny and gold, their eyes red, their bodies black.

I reached down and touched one very lightly, then stroked its soft wings. The creature remained still, seemed completely unafraid, and it accepted my caress as though it had been expecting my curiosity.

With only slight encouragement, one climbed up on my index finger and looked at me benignly while I studied its angelic wings, and wondered at its docility and its trust.

In a week, I whispered to my guest, all of this soundless, contemplative, prepubescent innocence would be gone. He (if he were a he) would be mad with lust, loud and frantic, charging into trees and automobiles or plunging into the river.

And she (if she were a she) would be watching, listening, waiting, and loving the grand display. And both sexes would be equally disdainful of human observation and intervention, blindly confident in their overwhelming numbers and in their biological imperative, “to put in order,” as the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius once noted, “their several parts of the universe.”

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the second week of Early Summer.  In the meantime, although the red 17-year cicadas may not emerge where you live this year, the green annual cicadas will be out in a few weeks. Listen for their call, the real call of summer. 

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Bill Felker has been writing nature columns and almanacs for regional and national publications since 1984. His Poor Will’s Almanack has appeared as an annual publication since 2003. His organization of weather patterns and phenology (what happens when in nature) offers a unique structure for understanding the repeating rhythms of the year.