Recently, there have been many articles about cicadas–this strange insect that lives underground for most of its life.
At any rate, many years ago I spent a summer in Provence along with a family who had a six-year-old child who was fascinated by cicadas and wanted to see one. This was not an easy task!
To those not well acquainted with the pattern of this insect the challenge to view a cicada might appear trivial. After all, their cacophonous symphony in the heat of summer, produced by rubbing their wings together, testifies to thousands of these creatures finding sanctuary in the branches of the plane tree but, when a cicada hunter approaches the army, as if from a signal on high, the cicada retreats into an eerie silence. The French cicada exhibits little, if any, desire to be viewed.
Understandable. This entire pattern of the cicada reveals odd priorities. For instance, the cicada gestates underground for seventeen years and once it emerges the life span is reduced to an average of six weeks. If I were ever granted a personal audience with a cicada my first question would be: “Haven’t you got it backwards? Wouldn’t it make more sense to remain underground for 6 weeks and above the surface for 17 years?” Of course, I’ll never have a one-on-one with a cicada. My faith cannot approximate Charlotte’s who knew nothing of the cycle of the cicada and refused to be deterred by the reluctance of her quarry to emerge from its hiding place once born.
At first, when Charlotte heard the clatter of Cicada, she stormed the tree barricades. That method failed to entice a cicada to make a public appearance. Then, like the great sleuths of history, Charlotte would sneak up to the plane tree, hoping to catch an unsuspecting cicada. Futile!
Both Charlotte and I had one final night at Chateau Unang. My heart was saddened because I knew I would never return. Once again, I lamented my own imminent loss and puzzled over the cicadas who seemed to waste life.
Opening my duffle I emptied the dresser onto the bed. Outside, I heard Charlotte giggle as she waited on the patio for dinner, her innocent voice accompanied by the gurgling gargoyle water fountain and the croaking of a giant frog, also a permanent resident of the chateau. Then all was quiet. But only for the moment. Suddenly I heard the chirping of a lone cicada. I ventured over to the French window only to realize the sound came from behind me. On my bed, to my amazement, a cicada had entered the open window and settled on the red lining of my duffle bag. Why had this lone creature left the safety of the plane tree and found its way into my room, more precariously into my duffel?
Now I had a mission. No longer could I lament my departure from the chateau. Somehow I must capture the cicada and present this farewell gift to Charlotte. But how? Was this a mission impossible? Slowly I approached the bag. The cicada perched without moving, studying me. Then I extended my hand. Would this be the deal breaker? But no. The cicada flew onto my finger and perched on my gold ring converted years ago from my father’s cufflink. The next obstacle, a long walk down the twisting marble staircase with the cicada and onto the stone patio where Charlotte sat with her parents, strands of hair draped over a bruised knee from an encounter with a swinging door.
“Charlotte,” I whispered her name and held out my hand. “Charlotte, your cicada.” Charlotte’s smile stretched out of bounds. And as if the cicada grasped why it was born it flew from my hand to Charlotte’s while the chorus of insects in the plane tree burst into song. After several moments the cicada rose from the child’s hand and vanished into the plane tree–its life nearing completion but wonderfully fulfilled.
In the years since I last saw Chateau Unang I have often considered the events that occurred on that farewell July evening as the sun disappeared behind Mt. Ventoux. And when I resurrect the image of the patient Charlotte who knew she would see a cicada, maybe even hold a cicada, before her vacation ended, I remembered my research on the cicada. In addition to the brevity of their life, French legend also mentions that cicadas symbolize friendship and love. For that reason cicadas never live alone, although I can testify to one cicada who departed from tradition and paid a quick visit to a child with blond hair and missing two teeth who believed a cicada would enter her life–or did she really believe in the power of friendship and love?
We all need our cicada—and remember to use your time well!