The Cicada Incident

It was always assumed that I would one day enter a sciencey field, probably entomology. It was a rare day in which I hadn’t invited a multi legged critter to take up residence in my pocket (Mum’s shrieks were not of joy as she went through my clothes on washing day). Indeed, even now when I’m in need of a ‘happy place’ (usually on crowded public transport when some miscreant has invaded my personal space with their buttocks), I am transported to running through a chest deep field of dry grass, parting the myriad tiny brown grasshoppers like Moses taking his cut-off through the Red Sea.

Interestingly, I’m terrified of spiders. If one wanted to analyse, I imagine they’d arrive at the time the whole family were tenants of a couple of caravans while our home was being renovated. I was about eight years old, lying on my belly in the tiny uncomfortable bed, reading a Superboy comic. I felt something unusual – a tingling of sorts on the top of my head. A quick gentle pat with the hand yielded nothing out of the ordinary, however, a second, more vigorous movement landed a gigantic huntsman spider squarely in the middle of the comic. Now, having met several huntsmans (huntsmen?) since, I know they rarely grow bigger than, say, a man’s palm and are completely harmless, but as clear as any memory I have, this particular specimen was as big as my shirt and ready to tear my arm off in order to beat me to death with it whilst still dripping before devouring me like a lamington. I handled the incident bravely, running screaming like a little girl into my mother’s caravan. I sobbed out the story of my brush with death to which my unyieldingly pragmatic mother replied, “Did it bite you? Then why are you crying?” But that’s spiders – two too many legs and seven too many stories about how they have scared the utter bejabbers out of me.

Cicadas have always held a particular fascination. Seven years under the earth; just biding their time until they’re ready to emerge, climb to lofty heights, discard their drab, subterranean armoured garb and reveal to the entire world their true winged beauty before bursting into song and serenading some besotted cicada babe. 

In every case, not for lack of searching, I only ever found the brown husk, still clinging to the bark with appendages like those found on alien machinery from the imaginings of HG Wells.

During the summer holidays of ‘80 or ’81, while searching for a shady spot to immerse myself in the latest edition of the Blue Falcon and Dynomutt – Dog Wonder, there, on the trunk of a stringybark, was the armour of a cicada newly split down the back like a fat woman’s dress and the brilliant red eyes of its occupant staring at me through the gap. Oh, rapture! Mesmerised, I gently took the beast, helped it from its shell and nursed it in my hands while its fairy wings extended and dried. This seemed aeons for an impatient little ginger mopped lad (being ginger has nothing to do with anything, I’m just painting a picture), but I was determined to stay with it for the entire glorious process.

And I did. I carried the thing around for the afternoon like the newborn it was and grossed everyone out who dared come close enough to take a peak. I can’t remember the details of conversation, but you can be sure I discussed something at length with my new bff. Thinking back, he didn’t seem that interested in anything I had to say. He just kept trying to get away – one can only assume he wanted to get singing and have some sex.

Eventually, late afternoon, I let him go. I was full of fare-thee-wells and may have even teared up a little as I gave him a tiny peck (yeah, yeah, I know) and launched him into the air as high as my puny arms could manage. I watched joyously as his new wings took hold of the air to propel him to his new life.

And then a butcherbird ate him.

Nature, it seems, is a hard-hearted bitch.



Anthony VercoeComment