Nature

“It’s quiet out there tonight.”

“Yeah; too quiet.”

Those of you familiar with westerns will know that this exchange between two cowboys guarding the wagon train immediately precedes every Injun  Native American west of the Missouri river overrunning the camp, killing all the men and carrying off the women. Those were the good old days but I digress.

Well, it’s not “too quiet” but it’s getting close. This morning, I really had to strain to hear any noise at all from the cicada population. Yes, if you listen very, very carefully – and there’s not any traffic on the street out front – you can hear a bit of the once overwhelming racket; much diminished and far away. It’s pretty safe to say now that the cicadas have had their day. There were some groups raising quite the din on our way out to Lake Monticello late Monday afternoon but the chorus was almost non-existent when I took the same route this morning.

For the past few days, I have found the remains of the recently departed on the hoods and roofs of the Parsonage motor pool; remains that were not there the previous afternoon or when I turned into the car-park 2 hours earlier. Those remains are rapidly disassembling themselves.

Back in the fabulous 50’s and swingin’ 60’s, there was a kids game called “Cootie”. What you had there was a box full of plastic bug parts; heads, thoraxes, legs, eyes, etc. and the players each rolled a die in turn trying to assemble a complete cootie bug before everyone else.

 


NB –  The game called Cootie is not to be confused with “cooties”; the dread affliction of elementary school hallways and play-grounds. There are many of us who still suffer the after-effects 50 years hence. There is no known cure for cooties but there is hope. To learn how you can help, write Washington, DC.


 

Well, the back patio looks like someone dumped the contents of a giant box of Cootie parts; wings, legs, heads, etc. litter the ground and are tracked into the back hall-way. I’ve swept the patio for the n-th time and have had to mop up the spew of cats who thought that a thorax with a side of wings would hit the spot. No doubt, I’ll have to repeat the process again tomorrow.

Resource:

 Cootie (game) — Wikipaedia

We are well into the third week of the cicadan invasion and they’re still coming out of the ground albeit at a greatly reduced rate. The week-end of 5/16 was probably high tide for these noisy visitors but there were still significant numbers emerging from the soil, rehearsing a few pick-up lines and buzzing off to the great arboreal disco lounge. There are still a smattering of stragglers every morning but the onslaught has seen better days.

The racket in the leafy confines of Studio 54 is still going strong, however. We don’t even have to go outside to hear them. They are quite audible inside The Parsonage even with the doors closed and the windows shut tight. Meanwhile, their life of no-stop boogieing is really starting to take its toll and the back patio is littered with the mortal remains of ex-cicadas dressed in pastel leisure suits, gold chains and conspicuous chest thorax hair.

North of Connecticut,  Brood II is waiting just off stage and those who emerge around June 6th will no doubt paint invasion stripes on their wings and jitterbug to classic Glen Miller tunes. Hopefully, the ruckus will have died down around here by then.

. . . or the epicentre, or Swarmageddon or Omaha beech or whatever you wish to call it. Brood II of the 17-year cicadas are in da house!

Last week-end, I noticed that a fair number of these insects had emerged and were hanging around on the forsythia bushes on the south side of the house. By late afternoon, most of the newly-emerged had ambled off somewhere. There were a few stragglers on Sunday but it appeared that The Parsonage had done its bit in this annual phenomenon.

184399_10201118485387826_307741485_nBoy, was I wrong! More came to the surface during the week but they were simply an advance party. The second wave to hit the beeches were beyond belief as far as numbers go. On Saturday & Sunday, they literally poured out of the ground and climbed on to every tree and leafy branch available. Some parked themselves on the discarded shells of the those that preceded them before climbing out of their own nymphal skin. The ground is littered with these casings and I think fondly back to my childhood where a bonanza like this  would mean that every red-blooded boy – regardless of race, creed or colour – would have ample opportunity to chase girls with these things and that, my friends, is what makes America great!

I’ve been able to observe just about every stage of this process – from the point where they come above ground, to the point where they buzz off and head a block or so south of here. It’s an all day happy hour where everyone is asking everyone else the Cicadian equivalent of “Hey baby, what’s your sign?” There have been casualties, though. Some get part way out of their skins and expire. Adolescence is no picnic for these guys. Then there are some who make it to the outside only to buy the farm before they ever take flight. And then, there are the members of the advance party who have had their day in the sun, asked their partners if it was good for them too and then crawled off to die. There’s an ample supply of discarded wings and other body parts showing up now. Keep in mind that they don’t eat at all during their adult life. In another two weeks or so, it will be all over. Eggs will have been deposited in tree branches and all that will remain are some satisfied birds.

About that last bit, I’ve wondered if there have been any studies to see if there is an up-tick in the survival rate of the avian population during emergences. One would think that there could be a dissertation – or at least a thesis – somewhere in all that.

What I am sure of is that I didn’t notice any of this 17 years ago. There was little or no racket in the neighbourhood and the only reason I found out is that I noticed all the dead limbs along I-81. Will they be back in the ‘hood in 17 years? Will I even be here to watch? It seems that at least some fly off to new territory to deposit their eggs. Does this mean that the brood will shift their location after a few cycles? Another master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation to be sure!

Swarageddon even made London’s Daily Telegraph. There’s more information as well as a way to share your observations at Cicadamania.com.

[wppa type=”cover” album=”4″][/wppa]

Looking Upstream

I come from Hopewell. Hopewell, Virginia – to be precise – at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers in a region I refer to as “Upper Tidewater”. I have always had a fascination with the Appomattox River. As a boy, I played along its banks and roamed the streets in the Mansion Hills section of Hopewell trying to see the river from a different perspective. I always dreamed of having a boat that I could take up and down the navigable portion of the river between Petersburg and Hopewell. This did not sit too well with my mother for her brother had drowned in the river a few years before I was born.

This was not the only tragedy along my portion of the river. In 1935, a Greyhound bus returning from Richmond, VA on Route 10 approached the bridge. In those days, the span was a drawbridge and on this particular day, at that particular moment, the draw was open to allow a boat or two to pass through. There were no cars waiting at the barrier ahead of the bus and the driver suffered a heart attack. The bus broke through the barrier and plunged into the cold waters of the river. It was said that the sound of the chassis scrapping against the steel lip of the bridge could be heard all over town. Of the 15 people on board the bus, only one survived. Among the dead was the wife of a long time family friend.* (See Comment)

Looking Downstream

About 14 years ago, I took my canoe on the waters of Swift Creek and on out into the river. There are a series of long wooded islands in that portion of the river, built upon the silt and gravel of all the years that the river has crossed the Fall Line from the Piedmont into the Tidewater and dropped its burden as the current slowed. I made it to one of those islands and thus only paddled part way across the Appomattox. I guess that making my way along and across the Appomattox remains on my ‘Bucket list”.

My father once told me that he had been up near the headwaters of the Appomattox; so far up that the river was narrow enough for him to step across. Now, I generally believed what my father told me at that age in spite of the fact that he liked to prey upon the gullibility of childhood and lay some whoppers on me. I suppose that today, he would have run afoul of the child protective services and I would be the recipient of years of psycho-therapy. Since kids of that ancient era were apparently made of more sterner stuff, I survived the leg-pulling and today smile inwardly whenever I think of my father’s tall tales.

 

The First Bridge Over The Appomattox

Nonetheless, it has been my ambition ever since that tender age to go upstream to the point where I, too, could step across the Appomattox River. This past weekend, I finally made that ambition come true though at this stage of my life, the expedition had something of an air of “Mythbusters”.

As Hopewell is the site of the last bridge over the Appomattox, so the former village of Appomattox Courthouse is the site of the first bridge. For those of you who happened to be awake during that portion of American History in high school, Appomattox Courthouse was the scene of  General Grant’s surrender to Robert E. Lee  Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Grant at the close of the war of  Northern Aggression Civil War.

Virginia Route 24 follows the route of the old Richmond to Lynchburg stage road that the Army of Northern Virginia took as it made its way towards Appomattox Station and the hope of resupply from three Confederate trains sent from Lynchburg. Lee’s army never made it to the station and found its way blocked at Appomattox Courthouse. The stage road crossed the river at roughly the same point that the highway bridge does today.

A Wee Dam

At that point, the river is lined with green, grassy banks and Sycamore trees. Picnic tables sit beneath the trees on both sides of the road. The headwaters of the Appomattox lie roughly 1 & 3/4 miles west of the bride and outside of the National Park Service property. It would be theoretically possible to bushwhack my way upstream – over private property – to where the nascent river is narrow enough for a child to step over but that is something for another day or another lifetime. Therefore, I must conclude that if my father indeed was able to step over the Appomattox, it was here at the bridge.

On this day, I was not able to step across for the National Park Service has placed a (very) wee dam across the stream where the river re-enters the. woods. Composed of a few flat and small blocks of granite, the dam is a landscaping trick to create a small, shallow pool beneath the bridge and gives the impression of a somewhat more substantial river than exists at this point. That, combined with the sand and gravel that has accumulated above the (very) wee dam over the years as well as springs flush with winter rains, makes the Appomattox River a bit too wide to step across at that point. Maybe two steps and a pair of duck shoes would do it.

The paternal “Myth” is not completely busted, though. In a couple of months, the river will have narrowed in the summer’s heat and you can indeed step across it. Perhaps, I will come back at that time.

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