I was driving in the Cape last week, my mom in the passenger seat, with the windows rolled down when an electrifying hum became too much to bear.
“What is that?” we yelled to the outdoors.
We were driving by a string of power lines, so I assumed there was some scientific phenomenon going on that I was unaware of causing electricity to fill the air. I’m unaware of most scientific phenomena, so it wasn’t hard to believe. When we got out of the car, there was a man standing beside his own car staring up at the trees, shielding his eyes from the sun.
“What is that?” we asked the guy who we took for a scientist, surely on the scene to document this phenomenon.
“Cicadas,” he said.
Upon closer inspection, we saw the trees were alive not with electricity but with thousands of winged things chanting like devotees at an ashram. It was straight out of The Birds.
“It’s a 17-year-cycle,” Mr. Scientist told us. “They’re born, then they mate and die. It’s only like this for about two weeks.” Yes, that sounded vaguely like something I had learned in school.
If you’re into bugs, and can stomach a truly repulsive video of a cicada molting, check this out. A little more research turned up the fact that it’s the males that do all the buzzing to attract the females. The females are quiet. Surprise, surprise.
Their two-week buzzing period (which sounds not unlike the painful outtakes of American Idol tryouts) may sound brief, but it’s two weeks too long if you’re living or vacationing on serene, seaside Cape Cod and have any hope of sleeping—ever—because pack it in, these little suckers are on a mission to keep you on edge all night. Not that dawn stops them, because they buzz all day too.
Of course, back in Masphee, where we were staying, the night was suddenly so quiet that we wondered what the cicadas had against our neighborhood. I mean, really: Who could sleep in such silence?