What was happening in your life in the spring of 1996? What seeds did you plant, and which ones are emerging now, 17 years later, in the heat and light of Solstice?
Three weeks ago, we were in New York City visiting our son and his girlfriend, who live in Washington Heights, the northernmost part of Manhattan. Temperatures rose into the high 80’s; the concrete and asphalt of walls and streets trapped the heat. On Sunday, June 2, we escaped to Flat Rock Brook Nature Center, a short bus ride across the George Washington Bridge into suburban New Jersey. We expected bird sightings and a pleasant walk in the woods.
Along the trail we quickly noticed small holes, ½ inch in diameter, punched in the dirt. On every bush and tree, brown insect exoskeletons, split open along the back, covered leaves, stems, trunks. From some, insects were still emerging, revealing black bodies, red eyes, and clear wings. Once free of its nymph shell, each climbed as high as possible on the plant, waited for its wings to dry, and took off flying. All around us pulsed a loud, high-pitched buzzing sound.
Our son pulled out his smartphone and identified the insects as 17-year periodical cicadas – Magicicada Brood II. They hatch from eggs laid along tree limbs, drop to the ground in larval form, burrow, and live hidden for 17 years, sucking on root fluids, growing and changing form. The nymphs then emerge, producing the punch-holes we saw, shed their exoskeletons, fly around and mate for 4-6 weeks. Males attract females using particular songs; as each mating pair duets, it adds to the chorus of millions. The females lay eggs which hatch after the adults have died and start the cycle all over again.
Our son does not spend a lot of time out in nature, and we live in Seattle. So we were unaware of the “Cicada Mania” that had been building on the East Coast. How and why did we happen to be in that place on that particular day – 10 hours after the nymphs dug their way out of the ground? I asked myself the questions above, found my journal from spring 1996, and journeyed to Cicada Spirit to find out more.
One dream from May 19, 1996 stood out:
I feel a lot of compassion for a young boy I know whose parents are going through a big change in their relationship. I write a poem for him about what he’s going through and give it to him. I hear from him that a woman has been distributing copies of my poem. He feels funny about it, and I think it’s inappropriate. Then I am sitting in a room with others, waiting for my turn to read poetry. I have no shirt on and realize I feel too exposed. I leave to go get a shirt. I meet the woman who has been distributing my poem in a booklet related to Bumbershoot and talk with her about it. She has to decide whether to halt distribution. I find a shirt and go back to the gathering. The steps to the building are obstructed with containers of food. It takes a long time to get back in. I have missed my turn to read, but I can take one later.
I noted, “For some reason this dream has a lot of emotional power for me.”
For years, my writing life has resembled the cycles of the periodic cicadas. I was active in writing and reading poetry in the 1970’s and published a chapbook in 1979 (two cicada cycles ago). Then my partner and I became parents, raising two sons, who in 1996 were 16 and 12 years old, each with his own strengths and needs. I wrote poetry but did not connect much with others – sucking on tree roots like the nymphs and storing my songs in a notebook. Around the time of the cicadas’ last emergence, I joined a writing group and began to share and read poems again. Since then I have moved in and out of active engagement. My Irish ancestors have been pushing me to make my voice heard and offer my contribution to the Great Song. Recently I spoke to my friend and writing mentor Sonya Lea about how we might work together this fall. The work would require me to expose myself in ways that are both freeing and potentially uncomfortable – to stand naked, as I was unable to do in the dream.
Almost exactly 17 years after this dream, someone published my words as her own in a Facebook post without my permission. I approached her as I did the woman in my dream, and she responded appropriately, apologizing and changing the post. The incident evoked the rage and grief of my Irish ancestors who, much like Native Americans here, were silenced as their language was stolen by English colonizers. What are the ways I silence myself, in blind loyalty to them?
In the shamanic journey, Cicada Spirit affirmed that the cicadas had called us to be in Flat Rock that day. He reminded me that humans have much to learn from observing and attuning ourselves to the cycles of nature, instead of fighting them. Some of the cycles are shorter and more ordinary; some are long, and their impact is more visible and dramatic. Creative work can have periods when the activity goes on mostly underground, and it’s easy to think nothing is happening. But the cicada larvae and nymphs have a full life, feeding, moving, growing, developing. Without these periods, emergence, mating, the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next, would not be possible.
My writing does not have to stay on a 17-year cicada cycle – I can choose to emerge more quickly this time!
I gave deep thanks and asked Cicada what I could offer. He said, “Write about us.”