Blogger Beth Ginter
June 28, 2021
I live in a densely populated suburb of Washington DC, in the Northern Piedmont, atop a hill, with an abundance of mature Oaks, Hickory, Tulip Poplar, and Dogwood. We have a lot of big trees on about ⅓ of an acre. It’s cicada heaven.
In 2004, our children were both under age 4 and the Brood X cicadas were the highlight of our summer. Because the kids were not yet old enough for the swim team or camp, we spent a lot of time with the cicadas that year: studying them, counting them, chasing them. I was doing consulting work then, studying landscape design, and just beginning to add more native plants to our garden. I remember so well calculating how old our kids would be when the cicadas returned: 18 and 20. In those days, when hot summer afternoons seemed to last forever, and we were exhausted with the joys of parenting young humans, it was hard to imagine that such a time would ever come. It’s a cliché that bears repeating: children grow up too quickly. In 2004, I was not yet worried about climate change and I knew very little about stormwater BMPs. The cicadas were abundant, miraculous, stunning. I had seen plenty of cicadas but not a periodical brood like this one. Much graduate school chatter at the time was related to whether to plant new trees or protect existing vegetation from the cicadas. How would the plants weather the Brood X storm?
Seventeen years passed in a minute. Our youngest child graduated high school this month and our oldest will be a college junior this fall. Cicadas in 2021, for these young adults, are hardly noticed; they are a minor novelty, a cacophony to be recorded on a cell phone and shared with friends in other states. There are parties and jobs and college preparations and relationships of their own which are much more important. And I know the days are passing much faster for the kids now, as well. They are old enough to see how time begins to move more quickly as you age, but not so old that they find it frightening. Since 2004, I changed careers, finished my Masters, started a landscape design business, helped launch the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional program and became CCLC’s executive director. A lot of water has passed under my career bridge in 17 years, but it is the parenting part that has gone too quickly.
Their work of reproducing done, Brood X cicadas are leaving us again. I have not spent as much time with them as I did in 2004, but I have loved having them here, even when their corpses litter the front walk, their dried shells remain affixed in the garden, and the singing makes it hard to hold Zoom calls on the porch. I took midday breaks from the computer to walk around and flip over the multitudes of newly-emerged cicadas that were flailing on their backs, so they would have a chance to fly up to the trees before the birds got them. This week, I noticed that my hens are starting to eat the garden again. Now that their cicada feast is ending, they are pecking at the shrubs and the container plants again. I can see that the Oak leaves are browning and beginning to fall, with the next generation of Brood X ready to return to the ground.
Today, it is impossible for me to imagine our kids at 35 and 37. Where will they be? Will they have families of their own? How will the Bay be faring in 2038? Will we meet our pollution reduction goals? Will the blue crabs and oysters be ok? Will we be taking better care of our stormwater BMPs by then? Will more landscape pros be focused on having a positive impact? What of the planet? Will we have made significant progress in reducing CO2 emissions? And the cicadas? Will they be here again, just as abundant and persistent as ever?
This year’s cicadas have led to a lot of introspection. I am grateful to live here, atop this hill, and to have had the opportunity to witness the Brood X cicadas twice. Even surrounded by roads, and neighbors, and the post-pandemic rush of life in Washington, nature thrives here. Birds, insects, squirrels, chipmunks, foxes, rabbits, deer, and the occasional raccoon remain among the forest remnant. The trees are losing quite a few branch tips, but seem to weather the cicada storm just fine. I do what I can to preserve this place for all of them. And I will miss the cicadas.
Beth Ginter is the executive director of the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council. She lives in Silver Spring, MD, with her family and a varied collection of companion animals.