cicada music friction

September 22, 2005

in Insects, Urban issues

Lo! on the topmost pine, a solitary cicada
Vainly attempts to clasp one last red beam of sun.

— Japanese poem

I actually got a call the other day from a man complaining about the sounds of cicadas and katydids.  He explained that since a nearby forest had been cut down for a subdivision, there had been an increase in loud insects in his neighborhood.  He wanted to know how to get rid of them. 

He played a tape recording of an insect (he thought it was a bird, which I presume he was equally ready to oust) which he said called all night long.  Blasting over the phone was the unmistakable pulsating song of one of the dog-day cicadas, Tibicen pruinosa (you can hear this call, along with many others, on the Cicadas of Michigan web site).  Cicadas do not call at night, although I think the guy was unconvinced.  I explained to him about the great diversity of these insects, and something of their life cycle. Although I tried to reassure him that the calls would diminish greatly the next few weeks, to cease all together when autumn really hit, he still tried to get me to recommend something that could be sprayed on all the trees to evict the offending insects.  I suggested instead that perhaps he should consider relocating to an even more developed area where there were no trees or green space and therefore, no annoying insect sounds.

I found this disgusting.  We want to live in the "country," but we don't want to deal with wild animals that find our garbage or disturb our gardens. We don't want to listen to singing birds that have the gall to try to establish a territory, in a place where generations have sung, at dawn; or to noisy insects, especially those louder than leafblowers or hedge trimmers or lawnmowers, or those that can be heard even when our house is closed up tight with the air conditioning on.  We complain about woodpeckers trying to homestead on our structures, after chopping down those unsightly dead snags where they would prefer to nest.  We complain about flying insects after evicting the swallows from under our eaves, because they could "spread disease." We wonder where the butterflies have gone, after spraying with insecticides and pulling out all that messy goldenrod we think makes us sneeze, restoring "order" to "our" property. 

We want to "get away from it all," but the sprawl we create insures that all we said we wanted to get away from is once again hard up against our back doors, and what we thought we wanted to escape to, we have sterilized and tamed into a bland, dysfunctional parody of nature. 

I find it thoroughly depressing that a fellow citizen of my planet would want to silence cicadas. Perhaps he thought my blunt suggestion about moving to a concrete landscape was rude.  I hope that it made him think.  I try to tell myself that no matter how hopeless and frustrating the situation seems, my obligation, as a person who values, treasures, and understands biodiversity, is to try to educate others. I'm feeling a sense of urgency, and wondering how much more often the enlightenment must be conveyed by forceful eye-opening rather than gentle awakening.


Kris September 22, 2005 at 6:31 am

So true! We have people here in rural Lapeer County, MI who built a home on a dirt road, now want the township to pave it … who want streetlights! As if the all-night yard lights aren't bad enough. Yep, afraid of the dark and uncomfortable with the animals.

We enjoy the wildlife even though we've had to fence off whatever we hope to grow! This fall we hope to get a fence around the vineyard, or it will cease to be a vineyard. Yet there's just nothing like looking out the window in the morning and seeing a mom and pair of spotted fawns out there.

Keep up the good work!

Trix September 22, 2005 at 8:34 am

Very well-put post, Nuthatch. We are rife with wolf-killers who insist on farming delectable little lambs, in the wild, without fencing. Apparently it is cheaper to just shoot the wolves than erect costly fencing or feed guard dogs. Many people won't be happy until North America looks like one big suburb.

Rurality September 22, 2005 at 9:14 am

I think the saddest thing to ever appear on my sitemeter was a search from someone obviously seeking information on how to kill barn swallows!

Aydin September 22, 2005 at 9:52 am

Could this man's night calling insects be crickets? We get crickets in our house every fall. The 2 cats we have eliminate some, but otherwise their calling becomes part of the background noise & we don't even pay attention to it.

Cindy M. September 22, 2005 at 1:09 pm

too eerie, I just sent Trix an email about this very topic- how folks come to the 'country', the places I treasure for their very wildness, and the first thing they do is remove all the trees. By the time they're done, it looks like a city lot- sterile. I have a deep affinity for Wood Thrush, and their songs have dwindled every year. I miss them. But property owners near me have no idea they're gone because they didn't hear them to begin with. It's hard to hear birdsong over the roar of chainsaws and lawnmowers. It saddens and angers me both.

John September 22, 2005 at 1:10 pm

As a resident of a concrete urban landscape, I wish I could hear more bird and insect sounds in my apartment. It's one of the things I miss about living in the suburbs.

Anne September 23, 2005 at 1:13 pm

this should be required reading for everyone considering a move to the country. i work for a manager who wants to live in wildcountry yet demands that the mountain lions be destroyed – how dare they have the nerve to follow the deer into her yard (you know, the deer that love to eat all of that luscious landscaping she paid to have installed…)

Pat November 21, 2006 at 5:09 pm

Hello! I must disagree with your assertion that "Cicadas do not call at night". I live in the 'burbs of VA, just outside Washington, DC and heard the night song of the Brood X/"17 year" cicadas a number of times the other year when they made their scheduled appearance for several weeks. It is substantially different than the familiar rising and falling racheting sound made by annual cicadas. It's has an almost "cooing" quality to it, like a dove on quaaludes (not that I'd give downers to birds, you understand…). My one disappointment was it was very difficult to record at a decent level. Pity that guy was intent on shortening their brief lifespan; move to the big city and enjoy silent roaches!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: