Loving the Exhale

This is the year. The big one. They are coming, ready or not, and they will arrive in droves.

Image by parlansky from Pixabay

In Pennsylvania, where I live, this is the year of Brood X. The year of the huge 17-year cicada hatch.

According to National Geographic, there are 3,000 cicada species, but only seven are periodical cicadas.

The insects we typically hear droning as the backdrop music to our summer nights have spent less than a year underground as nymphs.

The 17-year cicadas (or 13-year cicadas in the south) hatch from eggs laid over a decade ago on the bark of a tree, in the sunlight.

Shortly after birth, they drop to the ground, where they burrow underneath the soil and live for 17 years, sucking nutrients from tree roots, in complete and utter darkness. When they emerge, they add their voices to the yearly cicadas, sometimes numbering over 1.5 million in one acre.

Seventeen years ago, in 2004, my oldest son was home.

Having sampled the life of an adventurer and world-traveler, he was home that spring to say his goodbyes before leaving for a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Zambia.

My emotions were all over the place. I was thrilled to have him temporarily at home but anxious about the impending separation and worried about the living conditions he would face in the African bush.

One morning as we drank coffee together, an article in our local newspaper describing the emergence of the 17-year cicadas caught my eye. I asked my son if he would like to try to find them with me.

This particular son has always been the family member most likely to agree to accompany me on adventures in the woods.

We set out in our attempt to locate the insects.

As it turned out, they were impossible to miss.

Driving through the heavily wooded state game lands a few miles from our house, the unmistakable whine of male cicadas calling for a mate became increasingly loud. As we turned onto a gravel road to park the car, the cacophony was deafening, even through car windows. We had to shout to communicate.

When we exited the car and began walking, we soon realized cicadas  were blanketing each tree and shrub. The garishly colored green and black bugs were everywhere, their red eyes glittering. Female cicadas periodically flicked their transparent wings to signal “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!” to their would-be suitors, causing sparks of sunlight to cascade from thousands of leaves.

While yearly cicadas have evolved evasion strategies to avoid predators, periodic cicadas, who live the majority of their lives underground, don’t need them. We could walk right up to the insects clinging to every nearby plant and examine them to our hearts’ content. 

We gaped at the spectacle going on all around us, unable to speak, even if we could have made ourselves heard above the din. I was on sensory overload.

It was a perfect experience. One I will never forget.

Time makes events memorable.

Each winter is, for me at least, a waiting time.

Yes, a snow-coated country scene is beautiful. I enjoy sledding with my grandchildren, sipping hot cocoa afterward, sitting in front of a blazing fire, all the wintertime things.

When spring arrives, however, I realize. I have been holding my breath, marking time for the warmth, the sunshine, the flowers, and bees, the brightly-colored birds to return. I have been waiting to see the first butterfly, to hear the first spring peeper, to feel the first warm spring rain, to watch the earth come alive again.

I exhale each spring.

If the annual renewal and rebirth of spring are special, how much more special must the emergence of the periodic cicadas be? It only occurs once every 17 years.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When Christians talk of renewal and rebirth, they are usually referring to Jesus sacrificing his body on the cross to wash away our sins. There is another renewal, however, that takes place through the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit has “renewed and sanctified us to be members of Christ” (according to the Heidelberg Catechism).

This means that not only have our past sins been washed away, the Spirit gives us the power to turn away from sin so it is not appealing to us. We become “dead to sin“, living blameless lives through grace.

We have been and are continually washed clean every day. Baptized in the Spirit, we emerge, blinking and scrubbed, into the light and the wonder. Just like a newborn emerging astonished from the darkness of the womb.

Just like cicadas, surfacing after living for 17 years in the darkness.

This spring, I will seek the periodic cicadas again. My son now lives 2,000 miles away, so maybe I will ask my husband to go with me.

I want to be there to witness the emergence, the rebirth with wonder and gratitude. I want the grace. I want the holiness.

I want the exhale.

You can find the places I link up here.

 

100 comments

  1. Your experience is surprising to me. I’ve never noticed the periodic cicadas, maybe because I wasn’t reading about them. This year I will be alert and will listen. Thanks for all your information.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh wow, that’s fascinating! Your post had me googling cicada brood maps. I wanted to find out whether we will have the Brood X in Europe, too. It doesn’t look like it, unfortunately, but I’ll keep searching!

    Such a fitting analogy too! A great reminder to view each day as a clean slate.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We have cicadas around here, but because this is a newer subdivision and many trees have been removed for houses, we don’t get the onslaught of them that happens elsewhere. I read someone say that the message of cicadas is: enter singing, live, then die. Kind of liked that idea.

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  4. We are also having a big hatch this summer. I’m sorry my beagle passed before a final “all you can eat” buffet! But what life cicadas have: wake up from a long nap, eat all you can, have sex, die fat and happy.

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  5. I really enjoy reading your posts. They always ring true for me. Love the picture of the flower. So beautiful.

    I have never looked at the cicadae emergence in this way. Maybe I will appreciate it more the next time it happens here. Usually, I am irritated at the “noise” that disturbs my peaceful existence.

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  6. You described the cicada siege/arrival perfectly Laurie. It is quite the sight (and sound as well). Just the regular cicadas buzzing on a Summer day can sometimes feel deafening, but amazing at the same time. Back in 2004 I can remember going out in the yard and finding live cicadas clinging to the roses/rosebushes, as well as seeing their empty shells snagged on a thorn in the rosebushes. We will experience Brood X as well here in Michigan. Hope we’ll get some photos of the experience … hmm, do we want to take pictures of them though? I get enough oddball red-eye shots from the squirrels sometimes. 🙂

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    • I hope you get some photos, Linda. You are a much better photographer than me. Although, I did take some pretty good photos of my grandson playing in a mud puddle today. I took a bunch that I deleted and tried to be patient for just the right moment. But photographing a little boy is probably kind of like wildlife photography – you only have a split second to snap the photo before the moment is gone.

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      • It will be fun to try … they should be easy to photograph for both of us Laurie, because they don’t move around much (if memory serves me correctly). Oh yes, a little boy stomping through a mud puddle would be like trying to photograph a bird – on the move and just when you think you’ve got a perfect shot, they move! I hope to see at least one mud puddle photo in an upcoming post. 🙂

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      • Yes, they will be easy to photograph if we can find them. 17 years ago, it was easy to find them. I hope it is just as easy next month. Once you find them, they are very stationary. I am thinking about using the mud puddle photo in an upcoming post. Maybe in May.

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      • I’m thinking if you zoom in on it, it will make an interesting image for a blog. I’m sure we won’t be the only ones doing that either. The noise might make it easier to find them, unless they are quirky. I used to find their coats they shed all over the yard. Great – that’s perfect for May, maybe even for Mother’s Day since grandmothers are included in the celebration.

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      • Yes, that’s what I think too – zoom in to get a big image. When we drove to see them 17 years ago, they spattered all over the car. You couldn’t miss them. The problem is finding the area where they are located. There were absolutely none at my house, but 5 miles away there was a ton.

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      • Wow – that is interesting Laurie. Here at the house, they were making their noise and it sounded like the neighborhood was buzzing with them. I found them on bushes in the backyard, as well as their exoskeletons that they shed hanging off the rosebushes. Ugh. I’m going to send you a video separately … I was sure it was an “exoskeleton” or shell, but Googled to ensure I had the right terminology. I am dealing with ants right now – and not wanting to use pesticide, but it’s been 10 days and I use Dawn dish soap in a spray bottle with a small amount of water. It kills them on contact … the Dawn does something to their exoskeleton. But I am using Terro Liquid Baits as well – it’s been frustrating. The grandkids might like this video to see once the cicadas arrive en masse.

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      • Thanks for the amazing video. It’s a good one! I deal with ants periodically but haven’t seen them yet this year. I mix equal parts of Borax and honey and put it out where the ants can get at it. You don’t kill the ants at the trap. They gather there by the dozens. They take the poison back to their nest and it kills all the ants. Works great! I don’t like to use harsh chemicals either.

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      • I may just try that next year Laurie as the Terro Liquid Bait worked initially, a week ago, but I’m still getting occasional ants at the kitchen table where I work (ugh), though they are now gone from the countertop. Now they’re everywhere in the bathroom and my bedroom, having them again, despite Terro Liquid Bait in each room the past ten days. This bait has Borax in it as well. I’m ready to move on to warmer weather which may help!?

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      • Yuck! One of the very few times I ever heard my mom use a bad word when I was a kid was when she was cursing at ants “D#$%# ants!” The only bad thing about the Borax is that you shouldn’t kill the ants while they are congregating at the bait. You want them to take it back to their nest. It’s tempting to just smush them or run them all down the sink.

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      • I have had a particularly bad day with the ants today Laurie. I sense your mother’s frustration was just like mine. There is no way I can get rid of the trail(s) that they have made to the kitchen table. I have had about ten ants at the kitchen table today. I work here at the table with the laptop and my eyes are darting around constantly to see if I see any ants. It could be worse – if it was spiders or centipedes I would need to have professional treatment as I am very scared of them. It’s been three weeks already with the ants. I did have the swarm initially, then it went away at the kitchen countertop, then they returned, but just a few a day. But they are in my bedroom and the bathroom as well. I resisted getting a perimeter spray due to the hummingbirds which should be here shortly.

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      • As of today the ants are gone – now I hope it is for good, but this is the fourth or fifth Spring to have ants and just in my bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen. They arrived three weeks ago today as a few and yesterday I killed about 40 and at least 20 of them on the kitchen table (I was beside myself as my laptop is at the kitchen table and I am here from 11:00 a.m. to about 9:00-10:00 p.m. daily. So this morning I got up … no ants anywhere. That happens every year – one day they are gone. All day long I’ve been waiting to see one and haven’t. If they come back, I will try this solution you gave me. I’ve already noted it. I don’t know why they all exit the same day – that is bizarre to me. No stragglers … just a mass exodus. Good riddance!

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      • I was ecstatic but found three today – my bubble was burst at that, but considering I had about 40 on Tuesday and none yesterday, I am hopeful. What usually happens is that they do all leave the same day which is both bizarre and incredible. I am hopeful that tomorrow will yield zero ants.

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      • I wish – I had 10 today so I cannot clean everything up yet. I am either going to try your mix which I’ll have to go to the store to get or put out fresh Terro. I was impressed how they converged on the old Terro (which the manufacturer claims to never expire) that I decided to just keep it to have it on hand. I’m a little disgusted and wish I had kept notes on how long before they exit … I thought it was three weeks. It’s been 23 days so far.

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      • I had two on the table since I got here and didn’t get here to the table until about 4:00 p.m. I hate them. I wish I’d gotten the spray now – I resisted due to feeding the hummingbirds. I was worried that even spraying before they got here might be problematic for them.

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      • I am happy to report I am ant-free for two days now. Last time I assumed and jumped the gun … I know from the past that when it’s time for them to go, they leave and that’s it until next year. I’d have had a spray done but for the hummingbird as I didn’t know if spray would contaminate anything like mulch or grass and somehow get into the feeder.

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  7. I am not sure how this grand chorus of cicadas would sound but I miss hearing the voices of one or two. We don’t have them here, or at least not in my area. Nor do we have frogs for the most part, or lightning bugs. All things I miss from childhood. We also rarely have mosquitos. Something I don’t miss. Hope you are able to make a fresh set of wonderful memories again this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would miss the cicadas singing in the summertime. I just heard the frogs singing on my run this morning too. I would not miss the mosquitos, though!

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  8. 2016 was a huge cicada year where I live. We had a ton in our neighborhood but none where my SIL lives a mile away. I have lots of pictures and fond memories of the boys reacting to all of the bugs. I don’t think they’ll be that impressed this time around, but it was a fun time.

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  9. Hi Laurie – that was beautifully written and I’d love to see those cicadas too. I think we all need moments of wonder to appreciate the infinite and the eternal – the bigness of a God who creates small miracles for us to enjoy.

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    • I like the rhymic sound of cicadas in the summertime, but these periodic cicadas are something else. They sing in the spring and they are absolutely deafening! You have a great week too, Tamar!

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  10. Let’s just say Judaism takes a very different approach to sin. 🙂

    Still a nice walk down memory lane for you, Laurie. A very special memory with your son.

    I have heard about the Brood X, but I don’t think we get them here. Or at least I’ve never experienced it.

    For me, Spring is like coming out of a long, deep tunnel. I know I struggle every Winter, but you really don’t realize how bad it is until Spring arrives. I do wish there was something more I could do about that — yes, Winter is a time to go inside, but you can definitely go inside a bit too much!

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  11. Loved this post Laurie, I wish WordPress gave us a few more options for responses besides “like” there should be a button for “love” and in your case a button for “drum roll” Sharing this on my FB page and the church page.

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  12. WHAT a picture of your son! (And what an experience for him!) I have to say, I was gripped reading your experience of the cicadas. Love the whole story. While it’s certainly fascinating, the whole thing…I also think to myself, Mmm….no thanks. I love your curiosity about it. But it kind of freaks me out!

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  13. We had the 17 or 13 year ones here sometime after we moved here. My dad was visiting. We would take walks and they would be so loud we had to shout. They died and left piles of dead cicadas circled around the base of trees 12 inches deep. Now you have me wondering if this is the year they will once again emerge .

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  14. I agree, there is something about spring that makes me exhale as the days get longer and the world seems to come alive again. I have never heard of periodic cicadas – it was interesting to learn about them.

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  15. You’ve really opened my eyes, Laurie — I’m woefully squeamish about insects, and we don’t have periodic cicadas where I live, so whenever I’ve heard about them I’ve only been grateful I don’t have to see or hear hordes of big, shrieking, flying bugs — who might somehow get on me. But you’ve changed my perspective so that I can think of them as a wonder. As long as they don’t get on me.

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  16. I am overwhelmed by your post, Laurie…
    thinking of a 17 year wait, hiding in our Risen Lord, considering your statement: “I exhale each Spring”.
    As always, I am nourished and uplifted when I visit your space.

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  17. I went birding in Texas one July, and wished I had ear plugs to deaden the whine and drone of the cicadas. It wasn’t 17 years ago (or even 13), but all I could think of was, ‘How will I hear the birds?!’ So cicadas remind me not to let the world drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit 😊.

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  18. Your post reminds me of growing up in Ontario where the sound of cicadas were the back drop to summer evenings. When visitors for the first time to Ontario ask ‘what is that sound?’ it takes me a moment to figure out what sound they are talking about since the cicadas song is no longer even noticed due to it’s familiarity! To listen and remember God’s grace every day instead of becoming just background noise, is fully living in His presence. Thanks for that reminder today!

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    • I have experienced the same thing – the cicadas’ summer “singing” becomes background noise that I don’t even notice. The periodic ones in the spring are something else altogether. They are deafening! What a wonderful perspective on God’s everyday grace. I love it!

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  19. I’ve heard the cicadas when I’ve visited in the midwest and the south. They are truly fascinating insects! Rebirth in spring does something for my spirit too. When the crocuses and daffodils begin blooming, when I see my first orange-breasted robin, when that first day comes when the sun’s light just looks brighter, I know spring is coming, and my spirit dances. God is fun that way. He knows when we need rebirth and visual (and auditory) reminders that the seasons change, and He’s with us through each one.

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  20. Thanks for these great words. I’m so happy that you had that experience with your son, it must have been so fascinating.

    Your link at ‘My Corner of the World’ this week is a wonderful addition!

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  21. BREATHE out..such a good thing, right? As for cicadas…we too have them in Australia and I had no idea of this lifespan thing. Such a good story you (always!) share. For me, the cacophany of cicadas comes close to Christmas, often our hottest time of the year just before school breaks up for 6 weeks…and I remember it vividly from 1959 when we had just moved to Sydney and a brand-new to us school. Each time I hear them now, I am that 10 yo girl.

    Thank you so much for being a kind-hearted and generous sharer of your blog post each week for Life This Week. It makes such a difference to each Monday for me, opening up the blog and …there you are! Thanks for linking up and next week, the optional prompt is joyful. See you then, all being well as they say! Denyse.

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    • Nothing like a good exhale, Denyse! another Aussie reader sent me a link to information about cicadas in Australia. I had no idea they were that widespread. Cicadas to me always signaled the start of another school year.

      Thank you for hosting. Hope to see you next week!

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  22. Laurie, as you know we live quite near one another, so I likewise am awed by the cicadas emergence. God’s creation never ceases to teach us more about Him! I love the analogy of the renewal and rebirth we undergo, as God transfers us from the Kingdom of darkness into His kingdom of glorious light! Exhaling with you friend!

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  23. Fascinating experience and all the encouragement that went along with it.
    Being in No. CA has not allowed me to see Cicadas first hand. I can only imagine the din.
    Thanks for sharing
    Sue of photowannabe

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  24. This is fascinating, Laurie. I had heard about the 17-year cicadas but knew nothing beyond the fact that this was the year for them. I wonder if we’ll have them in Kansas. The regular ones are pretty deafening in the summer, and that takes me back to my childhood like nothing else! Spring is refreshing my spirit too, especially this year. I hope you find those cicadas—please tell us about them if you do!

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    • I wonder too if they are in Kansas. I know there are a couple different populations and one is on the East Coast, but I don’t know where the other one is. Glad to hear about your spring rebirth this year, Lois. You can be sure I will write about the cicadas if I find them.

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