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Cicadas are better than warm milk for sleepless nights


Cicadas are popping up in North Carolina with their beady red eyes and elongated wings. Not that I’ll get to see any. North Carolina is a big state. According to the cicada map I found online, they will most likely continue to emerge northwest of us, in and around my brother’s back yard.

These are the 17-year cicadas, so they are getting lots of press. After spending nearly two decades underground feeding on roots and such, they noisily emerge. And for a brief time, they will probably be ultra annoying to folks who have been hosting their underground stays.

I’ll be highly disappointed if none come up from our front lawn. As a child, the cicadas and crickets selflessly calmed my nerves and lulled me to sleep. Thunderstorms terrified me during my early years. But as soon as I heard the insects start to sing, I knew the storm had passed and I could go back to sleep.

Sleep was not possible during the thunderstorms of my childhood. I had to be alert so I could run downstairs and wake my parents should a bolt of lightening hit our house. There were a couple of relatively close calls as far as my developing mind and imagination were concerned.

But after breaking out in a cold sweat, trying to wake my sister, and then scrambling downstairs to warn my parents of impending doom — and beg to crawl in with them — I was sent back to my room.

“It’s almost over. Go back to bed,” my dad would say as he turned away from me.

What I didn’t realize, until I was about 10, was that if lightning struck the house, or the tree next to the house outside my parents’ bedroom window, I wouldn’t have to try to wake my sister or my parents. The night the lightning struck, my dad screamed louder than the thunder boom. His scream was followed by an equally loud thud.

The thud was the sound of my dad hitting the floor. He was so startled by the strike, he actually fell out of bed.

If my siblings weren’t jarred awake by the storm, my dad’s reaction to it certainly did the trick. My sister and I ran into my brother on the dark staircase as we all scrambled to my parents’ room. This time, we didn’t ask to stay. However, we did laugh so hard we couldn’t get back to sleep for an hour.

On that hilariously devastating night, the humming insects once again began their song as the storm moved dissipated. With tears in my eyes and a stitch in my side, I was lulled to sleep by the insect world.

This will be my third 17-year cicada experience — although, in 1979, I probably didn’t notice any difference. We lived in the mountains of New Jersey on a dirt road in an extremely wooded area. Another swarm of bugs and a little extra humming noise would not have registered as exceptional on my kid radar.

In 1996, we lived slightly north of where we live now, so we had a better chance of being amongst the action. However, I was busy with two preschoolers. A spaceship could have landed in my driveway, green aliens could have disembarked to eat the cicadas, and then the spaceship could have taken off without me ever noticing something was amiss.

That’s why this year, I’d really like the little buggers to push through our lawn, leaving lots of little holes everywhere, and sing in our trees awhile. Considering how many nights have been lost to insomnia lately, I could use a little lulling.

It is entirely possible that we could see some cicadas. There are some holes near our big oak tree. And all our iris bulbs on one side of our walkway disappeared, leaving us with only half an iris display this spring.

Yes, it could be voles. But we have lots of cats in our neighborhood. We have a healthy catnip plant and there is evidence of it being used as a late night hangout for felines. And just last week I found a deceased vole nearby — clearly a gift from our cat visitors.

Squirrels are another possibility. They could be digging up their stores of nuts, leaving holes and destroying bulbs. However, our squirrels are rather scrawny this year. If they’ve been chowing down, they must also be hitting the gym five times a week.

While I desperately hope we have cicada friends preparing to visit, the maps online seem to predict we’re too far south. But at least my brother’s family will get to see and hear them. Two of my nephews are preschoolers — the perfect age for being lulled to sleep by mega-swarms of cicadas.

My boys, however, are way too old to even notice the cicada event. Unless, of course, a few hit the windshield and they have to clean up the goo before being allowed to borrow the car again.

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Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and the author of Thurston T. Turtle children’s books. She and her family live in North Carolina. Her e-mail address is mickibaregmail.com.