Living in Kansas has brought a whole new level of appreciation, as well as terror, of nature to me. I moved around a lot as a kid, but I spent the gist of my childhood in Chicago. A vivid, loquacious, liberal, artistic atmosphere and a limited degree of the great outdoors is pretty much the polar opposite of where I am now. There is art in the gentleness of Kansas. There is a sense of family that is different from Chicago’s. People lean far more right than I find myself, but they smile a lot more, too. And the nature is everywhere.
As are the bugs. This year, along with the normal annual green cicadas, these black-and-orange Satan snots have shown up – magicicadas. They are the white noise to our humid, Kansas nights sitting on the porch. They are the playlist to our barbecue. They are the concerts while were fishing, from far away.
Up close, they are deafening scream machines that nightmares are made of. Their slow, stationary abduction of trees, sidewalks, streets, lakes, rivers, and houses makes them unavoidable and dead still until you step too close. Then, they fire up their horrible clicking and spread their long, rapidly buzzing doom propellers before dive bombing you. More often than not in your face. A good four inches of prickly, hard, kamikaze bug in anyone’s face begets an adverse reaction. And it is not uncommon to catch somebody leap into full psycho-ninja mode even in the middle of downtown when a cicada catches them unawares.
Like june bugs, cicadas are one of the few things on this green earth that can make me scream like I’m being viciously stabbed and flail accordingly. My dad used to have a nasty habit of hiding big bugs like crickets, cicadas, and june bugs in his hands and tell me he had a present. He would smile warmly and kneel down to hand me my gift, only to drop a live, epileptic monstrosity into my hands. Then, he’d watch me shake and swat and run away in terror with a hearty laugh.
So, one summer, when it was pouring incessantly, much like this year’s unyielding deluge, I found myself at a gas station in the middle of the night. I had just gotten off of work and had the long drive two towns away before I would sink into my pillow’s sweet embrace. The ground was a rushing river, the thunder was rolling belligerently, and the rain was that Forest Gump kind. I began to pump my gas and wipe my weary eye when I heard it. That shrill, rapid clicking.
It was close. Very close.
I looked over to my left and saw those big, black eyes peering at me from the pin pad on the pump. I shivered and looked slowly back to my hands on the nozzle. After all, I knew the cicadas weren’t actually harmful. The only harm comes from hurting yourself in the freak out. And, generally, if you behave slowly, so do they. When I avoid sudden reactions, I notice they are significantly less apt to get their sharp little limbs near me. So I continued on, only to be interrupted by that awful chirp, again.
I looked back to insure my company wasn’t in assault formation. But, he remained still and unassuming, leave for his buzzing. His chilling, harsh cry. His…desperate, stranded cries.
‘What if he’s asking for help?’ I asked myself. Then I rolled my eyes and looked away. Of course this bug wasn’t trying to reach out to me. And even if it was, this was the stuff of evolution. That’s why there’s so many of them. Birds, rain, windshields – there are so many of them because they need to survive the inordinate amount of things that can destroy their ugly little mugs.
‘Good riddens,’ I found myself reasoning as I placed the nozzle back into it’s holster. But, as I walked around the opposite side of my car to get back in – my feet soaked through my shoes – I hesitated. It was just a bug. There were plenty more of them and it was his own damn fault for stranding himself there. But I had the power to help him, this Goliath among his kind. I knew I didn’t have to help. I would not mull on it long if I just drove away.
But this is why I am weird. I was literally emotionally split about one of hundreds of thousands of demon bugs that, on another day, I would have probably happily watched splatter across my windshield or be devoured by one of the dogs. And so, I took a deep breath, swallowed my sheer terror, and decided to extend the olive branch.
I crept over to the stationary bug, his giant black eyes ominously empty despite the sheer amount of life he had for an insect. Then, i cautiously extended my finger to the pin pad. Slow enough not to incur his wrath, but with enough speed as to not change my mind when my wits finally caught up with me. He scuttled back a step or two up the keys, away from my finger. I closed my eyes and flinched, ready for him to launch into my face. Instead, I felt those poking little legs grasp onto my skin and scurry up my hand just enough to be free of the pump. I gasped and looked down at my adversary snugly strapped to my finger like the small limb of a tree.
“I swear, if you try anything while I am driving, I will kill you, myself,” I promised him. Then, I opened my passenger door and slowly lowered my hand to the seat cushion. It took him a few moments to decide he liked the chair better than my hand. But I was fine with waiting on a slow, calm cicada over spastic flapping, buzzing, and flying, one any day.
Then, I closed the door softly and got into the car on my side. I gently buckled myself in and turned on the car before I even considered closing my door. I flipped on the lights and the wipers all while staring down the large, painted creature calmly resting not two feet away. It could decide to fly at me while I was driving. In the rain. I could freak out, veer off the road, and end up in a ditch. This could have been an awful decision.
But that just meant I could not freak out. I had no option but to remain calm and face my fear of cicadas if my temporary ally decided to break our alliance in the weather. I had no choice but to truly acknowledge that there was very little this horrendous creature could do to hurt me and both of our safeties depended on my ability to keep calm and drive on.
So I did. For forty miles in the torrential rain, in the dark, I sat side-by-side with one of the creepiest things that mother nature has come up with, short of dobsonflies. For awhile, I even got comfortable. I almost forgot he was there. Only to be quickly reminded by a rude, startling chirp from him. But he remained totally still.
When I got into my home town, I found the nearest, dry shoulder to pull off into with some trees. Then, I carefully went in to scoop up the cicada. By now, it did not surprise me when he softly pried at my fingers before climbing on with no protest.
“Don’t ever say I didn’t do anything for you,” I muttered to him begrudgingly. I opened my door tenderly and walked him out to a small tree. Then, I lifted him to his new home and sighed with relief as I felt his sharp legs leave me for a more desirable location.
I’d like to think he told his future girlfriend about his alien abduction and relocation very passionately. And that all the other cicadas rolled their eyes and muttered things about him needing a foil hat under their breath.
After that, I have been significantly less alarmed by cicadas. One has not made me scream bloody murder, since. And even when they dart for my face or jump up at me in the humid summer winds, I merely halt. I shut down and breath. Just the other day while fishing, I had a butterfly on one arm and a cicada on the other, using my still body as refuge from the wind. While I could have certainly done without the latter bugs climbing along my arm, I could not help but smile. After all, one bug may have been delicate and gentle, the other a repulsive tank, but they were both insects. They were both the same. Mutually harmless and beautiful in their own, weird ways. Why should I welcome the butterfly and not the cicada? To do so would be utterly superficial. And that is one of my biggest mottoes in life: never judge a book by it’s cover or invest too much into outer beauty.
I think life is a lot like this. Our anxieties and apprehensions about enduring the hard work it takes to get what we want often keep us from trying. Like blubbering, terrified children, many of us would much rather freak out about the trials in life than confront the fact they really are harmless. And that little bit of pain, effort, heartache, or loneliness you may have to endure to make a healthy decision for yourself is nothing compared to the freedom you feel after confronting your obstacles and conquering them. I am no longer bound by my fear of large, Kansas hell bugs. They do not ruin my day or race my heart. They do not cause me to avoid fishing, archery, camping or the like. And when they come around, I even find myself fascinated by what species they are and how they survive the great outdoors.
Likewise, I am also no longer afraid to be alone. I no longer fear solitude or independence. I don’t shy away from the fact that I am facing years of schooling, dedication, and diligence to get where I want to be in life. I don’t fret over the sacrifices that means in my youth. These are all fears that I have slowly overcome by doing none other than facing them.
And I feel so free.