Newt Gingrich, The Rapture and Cicadas — All in My Own Backyard

Part One:

Out in the yard, the dogs are munching.

They wander slowly from a tall blade of grass to the stalwart trunk of a hackberry tree, from the chain link fence to the muddy area by the front gate. They don’t make a sound. If someone rides by on a bike, they do not notice. If someone has the audacity to walk past our house with a dog they don’t know or a dog they know, they do not sound the alarum. They are young, brash rescue dogs – a Rottweiler and a shepherd mutt – and I have never seen them so … intent. They are very, very busy.

Once every 17 years or so (meaning not that many times) I have wondered about the purpose of cicadas. I, and scientists, have never been able to figure it out. But I now know that they are here to focus and calm and feed my dogs.

The cicadas arrived in East Nashville, a week or so ago, filling the days with a sound that calls to mind the noise various aliens used to incapacitate the crew of the Starship Enterprise. In that week my dogs have eaten thousands of cicadas – “nymphs” (ugh) and discarded carcasses alike. It’s OK. I checked.

Late last night, when I let Chloe and Jak out to pee, cicadas were everywhere. Crunching underfoot, hanging perilously on the fence, festooning the composting bin like strange Christmas lights. Now, I’m a squeamish girl, but I put on my science hat and thus was able to bypass any gorge-rising tendencies. I took a moment to look closely at the delicate, Bodysnatcher-esque dance being performed in the glare of the motion-detector light. Thousands of cicadas were giving birth to themselves, all around me. Funny thing was, they were all at the exact same point: about halfway out of their roach-brown protective coatings. It was like they’d all waited to hear the delicate firing of a cicada starter pistol, then got busy. Or maybe, using tiny pencils, they’d all signed an agreement that 10:46 p.m. was The Time.

I stared, willing my goose bumps to flatten out, and wondered about other things that are re-emerging after 17 years. I came up with two. I’m sure there are others.

1. Newt Gingrich. 1994 was the year Gingrich co-authored the Contract with America – that powerful and well-timed boon to American Conservatives. And now, here he is again, singing a joyful noise of hope and seduction from the treetops. 1994 was also around the time he was in and out (so to speak) of an extramarital affair with the woman he would later marry. Such transformative behavior, then and now!

2. The Rapture. 1994 saw not one, but two Rapture predictions. And another is due this weekend; perfect! (I once wrote a song about a dog named Muffy – “a no-color poodle mix with an irritating stare…” – that was the only creature left behind after The Rapture. But she didn’t mind because she got to sleep on the display couches at the furniture store.)

    I got up close to the cicadas. Their new baby selves were white and soft-looking, like many politicians. Tender. I did not touch them. They had big, old buggy eyes that did not seem to see a thing. But what do I know?

    I’ll tell you what the ones inside the fenced-in backyard saw or didn’t see: two giant dog maws coming at them, patiently, inexorably. Seventeen years of waiting in the dark, then out into a brief sun, then painstaking, crackly birth, then a quick slurp of a dog tongue.

    For a metaph-whore like me this all makes me a little dizzy. But Chloe and Jak think it’s nothing short of wonderful.


    Part Two:

    Ode to the Cicada

    Do you know your eyes shine ruby red?

    That pitchy lace adorns your clumsy wings?

    That human babies grew up as you fed

    Yourself upon the planet’s darkest things?

    And here you are again. We all forgot

    That you were coming til we heard your dirge

    And then we all went What the Hell is THAT?

    Then thought about the past times you emerged.

    How young we were, how differently we wore

    The mantle of our lives. We were cocooned.

    Or maybe we were freer then, who knows…

    Could every cycle leave us more marooned?

    Sweet how a bug can make me dream

    Of the summer I was 17.


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