Hydrogen Jukebox Press
An Online Edition
edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers
Saturday, June 25, 1914
The day burned forward without breeze or dew. Gray heat smoked overhead, tarnishing the purity of the sky; the morning lights and shadows were early reduced to one hot, broad, all-pervading glare of sun. The birds, faint and silenced by midmorning, found the Fireman's basin a veritable fountain of life. All over the city little beaks were open and little wings drooped until they reached the ever-refreshing margin of his unfailing pool.
"In all the city one creature only feared not the heat--a cicada just out of the ground. A number of birds attended the miracle play of its transformation. It first scaled the trunk of the magnolia, climbing slowly to the height of the lower limbs.
"That thing's forelegs are just like ice picks," commented the Sparrow. "Any telegraph lineman could give it points about getting up a tree."
"You'd be awkward, too," declared the Gray Pigeon. "If you had lived as many years underground as it has. That climber was a big, white grubworm a few months ago. There, it's stopped!"
"Oh, look, look! It's splitting!" cried the Hen Sparrow, dancing on a twig nearby.
The cicada was, indeed, splitting her shell down the back, exactly between the bulges of the hidden wings. The rift widened and lengthened slowly, showing a glint of pale green inside.
Within its parchment shell the new creature struggled, wrestling with its horny bonds, strained, swelled, pushed, bulged forth along the growing cleft--finally twisted free its head, its forelegs, its whole body, and tumbled out upon the grass.
"Oh, what a pretty thing! Like a big emerald!" cried the Hen Sparrow, fluttering to the grass beside the great, helpless bug. There it lay for a time, all gold and silver glints and iridescence, unable to stir or to crawl. Its three single eyes turned from tiny rubies to diamonds and back again as the light struck them from different angles; its great and wonderful compound eyes were smoked-opal. The whole insect was an object of singular beauty, like a quaint bit of carven jade from a Cantonese lapidary.
"But where are the wings," asked the Sparrow.
"There, those little lumps or stumps are the wings. Watch them."
"How could they have been packed so close as that? I can hardly see them against its sides."
"Look! They are beginning to unfold."
"There," said the Gray Pigeon. "In the side of the abdomen are the two tiny drums--the tympani that, by stretching and relaxing, vibrate to make the song. You can see that they are covered by the two round lids that he opens at will to control the rhythm and cadence of the sound."
They watched with deep interest while by the imperceptible gradation the green and frosty fans of future flight expanded, becoming opalescent, milky green and finally transparent.
"There! It will soon be able to fly," said the Gray Pigeon. "Its beauty will be gone within the hour; it will be dull-colored as the dust by another morning."
"But so happy!" cried the White Pigeon. "Only think--to be able to fly, after all those dark and lonely years in an underground prison! To have the sun and the air and its own flowing well of maple sap! All summer long those tiny cymbals will clash for joy, and the cicada's wells will refresh so many other children of the sun--numberless ants and woodland flies who quench their noonday thirst by his aid."
It was but a few hours later that they heard, in the top of the magnolia, the song that, being the world over distinctive of southern summer, has always been dear to myth and folklore of sun-loving peoples--Japanese and Indian, Greek and Italian. One of LaFontaine's fables, "La Cigale," is a mere slander on this industrious and thrifty insect, but emphasizes the gladness of its song. As "dry fly," "jar fly" and "harvest fly" it is known to all the country, all these names being fairly appropriate to the nature and season of its song--the noisiest insect in the world. The Japanese know the cicadas as semi and have many poems in celebration of their summer happiness.
As the song's powerful whirring cadences
died away in the noon air, the Fireman quoted for his birds the
appreciation of Anacreon, who heard the cicada in the isles of Greece so many centuries
"Oh, thou earth-born, song-loving,
Free from pain, having flesh without blood,
Thou art nearly equal to the gods!"