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Poor Will's Almanack: May 25 - 31, 2021

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Poor Will’s Almanack for the First Week of Early Summer, the third week of the Cottonwood Cotton Moon, the first full week of the sun in Gemini.

The 17 Year Cicadas of the Great Eastern Brood X continue to emerge throughout the South and Midwest. They leave their exoskeletons behind on twigs or walls, fly out into the sun and begin to look for mates.

According to Greek mythology, Tithonus, a Trojan, fell in love with Eos, goddess of the dawn, and was rewarded for his love with the gift of immortality. Immune to death, the body of Tithonus withered until it became a cicada that reappeared through the years.

In Plato’s dialogue, Phaedrus, Socrates explains that cicadas were once humans who fell so much in love with music that they forgot to eat, and their bodies shrank to the size of insects.

The Muses, who were charmed by their obsession, turned them into immortal cicadas.

The 18th century Japanese samurai, Tadaaki, a student of Buddhism and Taoism, tells a story in which a cicada discusses life and death with its cast-off shell.

The newly emerged insect, feeling guilty for leaving behind the hull of its former self, tries to comfort the empty exoskeleton by telling its twin that he will perform memorial rituals for its soul.

The brittle remnant, however, realizes that if the living creature experiences joy, it will likewise experience sorrow.

“Because I haven’t got anything inside of me,” the shell tells its alter ego, “I’ve escaped the world of pleasure and of pain…. Without loving life or hating death, I myself will know nothing of good luck or bad fortune, of honor or shame.”

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, look for those cicadas or their exoskeletons. Talk to them. But be careful of falling in love with music….or…. with a goddess.

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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.