Patience and Cicadas 

We’re all bad at it.

As I settle into the routine that I’ll have for the next half a year or so it’s hard not to dwell on the stretch of time in front of me before I finish up more of the training that will let me work in the industry that’s my calling. That’s not a bad thing.

I am intrinsically poor at having to wait for things. People, the sun to come up, etc. It’s why I don’t like going on road trips with other people, or traveling with them in general. When I decide I want to go, I go. So when there isn’t something to wait on, other than time itself to pass I try to take it as an embuggerence,put my head down and keep busy. Which is a shame, because there’s so much else I could be doing.

My summer and fall of just waiting in Baltimore happen to coincide with the hatch of the seventeen year Cicadas here in Maryland. These insect have always fascinated me. The year after I moved to St. Louis I got to experience the seven year swarm and it confounded my childish mind. Why did these things wait so long to emerge, only to die within a few weeks? Other insects didn’t do this, at least not to my young eyes. They came back every year when it was their time then faded away as the weather started to chill the air. This was the order I had seen, and it meshed with my high energy levels and penchant for always moving.

As with everything I didn’t understand as a child, my mother gave me leaflets and books to read about them. I became enthralled with the cicada lifecycle. It was fascinating, and in my view at the time obscene. Taking all that time to grow and develop, to me seemed like wast of the highest order.

It isn’t though. It’s a great strategy for a species and allows them to fill niches that are relatively safe. For the time they’re developing the Cicadas live underground, away from the elements and most predators. They slowly store up energy (and seventeen years is definitely slow) until some internal stimuli tells them “go”. Then they emerge in such numbers that no predator, no matter how large the population could possibly hope to devour them before the majority can breed and die. It even seems to my (admittedly under informed) eye that they’ve attempted to leave the predator/prey arms race of evolution entirely by waiting so long. Anything that adapted to prey on them specifically would have to already be on that seventeen year cycle, or something similar.

However, in all my research, I was missing a metaphor in the slow growth of these creatures. We all have periods in our lives of forced sedation. We’re working towards something different maybe, or waiting for an opportunity to arise that interests us. So it’s easy to waste the time that isn’t devoted to those goals. We go out, or something similar. Classic time wasting activities. I’m incredibly guilty of this, and maybe some of you are as well. We fall into easy patterns in order to make the time go faster.

That isn’t what our little Cicadoidea friends are doing. They’re going through molts as they feed on sap underground, slowly but surely getting closer to the stage of nymphhood that will allow them to crawl out of the ground, up a tree and emerge, winged and ready to start supplying the woods with their signature song.

Molting is something we as humans do over and over in our lives. Our lifespans are filled with what can feel like false starts, or failed attempts. It’s taken me years, and a few false starts of my own to realize the importance of those steps in my life. If I hadn’t spent four years in college, working in the political field, I’d have spent the rest of my life wondering if I’d missed a chance to do something good. Instead, I get to know for certain I wasn’t equipped for that sort of work, and luckily the next thing I fell into happened to be something that I’m certain will allow me to supply my “signature song” to the world.

Enjoy each little phase of your life, is what I’m getting at here. Even if it feels like you’re slogging through to get to the next one. If you’re lucky enough to know what that next phase is, you’re already off to a start. The trick is to capture that time in between and use it to improve yourself in preparation. Practice and constantly being on the lookout for new skills and information that will help you out. That’s our version of the cicada nymph’s sap. Gorge yourself on it. Let it help you grow until that shell your stuck in sluffs off of its own accord.

Patience is hard, and some scrawny woodsman in training waxing poetic about bugs (I have a few biologist friends who are going to be up in arms about “Cicadas aren’t true bugs”. If they mention it, I hope a cicada flies into their hair) isn’t going to make you better at it. The drive you foster in yourself by seeing your life in necessary stages might. Make them all count. I’m certainly going to try.

If you want to know more about Cicadas just ask (I get weird thrills from doing research) or check out this site. I don’t know who runs it but they goddamn love these little critters.

Now get off your computer, go sit outside till it’s dark and listen to these beautiful little alien eyed critters while you can


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