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The cicadas aren't coming. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it

Lukewarm Swarm



Back in 1998, Nashville's 13-year cicadas dug themselves out of the ground and headed up every horizontal surface they could find. Here at the Jowers house, we had cicada shells hanging on our trees, bushes and houses, as well as our cars and bodies. Every now and then, a flying girl cicada would land on one of us and start poking her victim with her sharp and pointy ovipositor. The cicada's poke is harmless. It isn't really a sting, it's just a failed attempt at laying bug eggs in folks' unprotected flesh.

How many of us remember the big events of 1998? I remember a few things, such as then-President Clinton sharing an aromatic cigar and, uh, certain condiments, with Monica Lewinsky. That got Clinton impeached. On a lighter note, Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' home run record, then Sammy Sosa did the same, hitting just four fewer home runs than McGwire. John Glenn caught a ride on the space shuttle. Sonny Bono skied into a tree and was killed by the impact.

Now here we are nearly halfway through 2011, and we're a little short on cicadas. I've seen one dead cicada in the Jowers flower garden, and that cicada was deader than Elvis and Sonny Bono combined.

I know, I know. Some of you are thinking: "Jowers, how do you know it's a dead cicada?" Well, I know a dead cicada when I see one, and I've seen thousands of them, many of which were inside houses.

Between 1998 and 2006, I was still in the home inspection business. Every working day, I'd pop the covers off customers' furnaces, and find the remains of dozens of cicadas inside those furnaces. I'd then show those dead cicadas to customers, to prove that the last person who billed them for a furnace cleaning either didn't clean the furnace — or that person enjoyed dumping old dead cicadas into peoples' furnaces. Customers would then ask me if the dead cicadas were from the huge 1985 cicada swarm, and I'd tell them, "Most likely. I suggest that you hire a new furnace man. You really shouldn't have to sweep cicada corpses out of your furnace."

I could be wrong, but I'm thinking this year's cicada swarm just isn't going to amount to much. Why is that? Well, because just about every cicada in town has been drowned twice in the last year. Cicada grubs live underground. Cicadas that live on the high hilltops might have survived last year's biblical-quality flood, but I doubt it. Those bugs have been Raptured out, sucked up to bug heaven. The combined leftover bugs from 2010 and 2011 have had way too much to drink. The river water and whatever lurks in it, along with the pressure of the compressed soil and water is going to keep the 2011 cicadas under the dirt.

Even though I'm counting on the cicadas to stay underground and stay dead, I'm sure that some people — neurotic suburban types in particular — feel like they just have to do something about the bugs. These are the same people who cut their boxwoods square, plant their tulips in a line along the sidewalk, buy scented toilet paper and spray Thompson's Water Seal on their fieldstone patios in a crazy attempt to protect 10-million-year-old rock from the ravages of weather.

Not quite content with fuzzy toilet seat covers, glamour-length nails, and pantyhose under slacks, these folks will go out and buy cloth to wrap around their trees, because people like them just ought not to have bugs on their trees. Worse yet, some have wrapped their tree trunks with tinfoil so cicadas can't climb them.

Just the act of clothing and unclothing a tree will likely do more damage than the bugs could. And that tinfoil-on-the-trunk idea is a real loser. That'll keep your tree bark wet and cause it to rot. The only advantage of tin-foiled trees is that they mark the homes of the neurotics.

I'm no great fan of bugs. I've been known to change direction just so I can step on roaches and those big, fat-butted ants. When I was a kid, I enjoyed shooting bumblebees with my pellet gun. (Only when they were in flight, never when they were parked. That wouldn't have been sporting.) But the cicadas, which I expect to be dead and stay dead, can't bite, can't sting and can't hurt anything.

Relax, and let's see what we get in 2024.


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