In the middle of last May,
after three successive rains softened the soil,
magicicada septendecim began to emerge
in great numbers from the earth.
For seventeen years it had lived underground,
feeding on the fluids of tree roots,
growing from ant-sized to wasp-sized.
The exodus began at sunset:
in perfect synchroneity the nymphs
appeared from tunnels underground
climbing whatever they could find,
trees or shrubs or telephone poles,
discarding dried-out carcasses
in the final molt to adulthood.
Soft and white at first,
as their exoskeleton hardened,
they turned dark and brittle
with lacy, orange-veined transparent wings,
orange legs, and beady red eyes.
In choruses in the sunlit treetops,
the males courted the females
with music made by ridged tymbals
vibrating against their abdomens,
the reverberating sounds arousing to both sexes.
The males played one song to locate females
and another to approach them with;
the females signaled their receptivity
in rhythmic wing flicks
increasing in speed and intensity,
while the males vied with each other,
each hoping to sing a duet
with a flickering female.
In the ecstasy of union her wings grew still
as he burst into the culminating solo.
In the Ohio River Valley,
at the height of the year,
they were as numerous
as drops of rain.
Large, clumsy fliers,
they frequently collided
with creatures and objects
moving or still.
Their shrill songs saturated
drowning the noises
of lawnmowers, traffic,
the roar of planes.
There was no harm to them,
no sting, or bite, or menace.
Their life was to sing, fly, mate, eat,
and bask in the light of day
and dark of night.
Birds and animals feasted on them.
They perished in droves,
their brittle corpses piled up
like leaves in autumn.
They were no plague but a blessing
to remind us of the vastness,
greatness, and mystery of creation.
They damaged only the tips of trees
where females lay their eggs,
which recovered after two months
when the eggs hatched
and the nymphs dropped to the ground
and dug tunnels in the earth
to aerate the soil and drain it,
there to develop in the darkness
of the next seventeen years.