The central-eastern chunk of North America has a very distinctive background noise for a substantial chunk of the year. While this sound is not totally distinctive to the United States and Canada east of the Mississippi River, the one here has special properties. I speak, of course, of the buzz of the cicadas. Erroneously called “locusts” because of their size and song, these insects have far more going on than meets the eye.
I remember my first encounter with one very well. I added the placid, unknown behemoth to one of several plastic insect habitats that were my favorite toys during the warmer New Jersey months, alongside some houseflies and beetles I’d caught earlier that day. I had to go inside, probably for food, and we soon heard a noise that we thought was some sort of chainsaw or motorcycle, but coming from the backyard. Alarmed and confused, my parents and I went outside and quickly localized the sound to the insect dome, and to the huge bug inside. The heat had given it a bit more energy and an amplifier, which it naturally devoted to its mating call. I let the beast go shortly thereafter. Cicadas would have a special place in my heart after that, combining teeming masses with an alien countenance.