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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Minor Nation?

Emily Dickinson had it wrong--at least, when she described the late-summer insect chorus in this way:  

          Further in Summer than the Birds
          Pathetic from the Grass
          A minor Nation celebrates
          Its unobtrusive Mass.

Now, it is entirely possible that the insects of August in late 19th-century Massachusetts were very different from those in early 21st-century Ohio, but I suspect that the difference may have been in the mood of the beholder. Yes, summer is winding down, especially for those of us still bound by the academic calendar, and many of our summer insects are nearing the end of their lives, but the calls of the dog-day cicada do not seem particularly sad to me. You can check out the sounds of the bugs currently making a racket outside our house in this  YouTube clip.

Groups of insects seem to be singing at each other, those across the street in the arboretum starting the chorus, which is then picked up by the boys in the lawn-strip maple. Not to be outdone, those in the walled garden come in as the others fall silent, and when their verse ends, the next movement starts in a different neighborhood tree.

Based on the sound, I have tentatively identified our singers as Tibecen winnemana, commonly known as the scissor-grinder or dog-days cicada. These large bugs are part of a group known as annual cicadas, related to the red-eyed seventeen-year cicadas with which many of us were inundated earlier in the summer. Unlike their cousins, however, broods of winnemana emerge every year, although individual specimens may spend as much as five years underground before emerging for their month-long songfest.

According to certain old wives, the first frost should occur about six weeks after the annual cicadas begin to sing. October 1 seems too early for frost, but after the heat of the last couple of weeks, maybe a frosty morning wouldn't be so bad.

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