I sent off a few emails. Now I sit on my porch looking at this.
The little guy tips. He hasn’t flown off yet, and won’t, probably, while I’m out here. I say so confidently because I’ve been sitting here since it stopped raining — twenty minutes or so — and he’s managed only to walk from the foot of the front door to where I shot him and back.
I’ve been watching them fly, cicadas, since they all began coming out of hibernation or gestation or whatever, and I’ve concluded it’s a clumsy, hopeful business. They seem poorly equipped to adjust course once they’ve taken off from whatever tree limb or porch lip they’d previously come to land on. They beat their wings in a flurry and often bash off the side of some garage wall or street sign, winding up on their winged backs on the ground.
Last night I was working the annual 5k the local cross country coaches association puts on to raise money for athletic scholarships for runners. While I was finishing up writing the names and age groups of the last of that evening’s registrants I felt a cicada tickling its way up off my shoe onto my shin.
I freaked. I’m no fan of insects. Shamelessly I kicked my foot trying to shake the cicada off. But he clung to, so I had to momentarily get over my personal shit and pluck him off my leg with thumb and forefinger.
Only I didn’t pluck him off. I flicked him off. A mixture of revulsion and — I guess call it concern — kept me from taking hold of the insect.
As they tend to do, this cicada landed on its back in the grass.
Minutes later, a young girl picked the cicada off the table leg he’d started to climb.
Holding it by the wingtips, she first carried it to a nearby chair and held it near the chair back. I watched it waving its legs trying to grab hold of the canvas.
When the woman who was watching the girl told her not to put the cicada on the chair, the girl carried the insect over to a shrub just outside the registration tent.
A few minutes later she was pushing the cicada against the wall of the building we’d set up beside.
Then she was squashing the bug with the toe of her running shoe.
I told my wife later about what I’d watched, and how it had made me feel angry and sad and also foolish for feeling angry and sad. I knew it was only an insect, one of millions that had flooded our neighborhoods with their continual droning for the better part of the last two months.
Just before the girl’s actions, a young boy who’d shown up to run in the children’s one-miler had plucked another cicada off the tabletop by the wings then told us that cicadas packed more protein than steak.
Insects are insects. I understand there’s no reason to be angry about the way the young girl and boy treated them.
I also understand my feelings of anger and sadness and frustration say more about my own state of mind than about the ways these kids behaved.
I hosed down our silver maple with Bug – B – Gon when the cicadas first began attaching themselves to it weeks ago. I walked around the trunk stepping on the insects, thinking that each cicada I squashed meant one fewer cicada had the chance to kill the silver maple.
Then there’s the chipmunk I’ve been trying all summer to trap.
The animal has begun burrowing in our backyard, and my wife and I both have heard it pitter-pattering up in the soffit, which makes me fear the animal nesting above us in the attic through the winter.
I’d planned to release the chipmunk elsewhere when I caught it. I’d load the wire-mesh live trap in my car and drive to a field or the park or —
Then my father-in-law recently raised the question: “Where?”
He has been trapping squirrels and chipmunks more or less yearly, and has wrangled with the same question — trap or kill? — himself.
The animals had eaten through the walls of his shed. They’d nested in its eaves and shit and pissed and trashed the interior.
He had to do something.
He had me consider the following: say you release a squirrel across town and they manage to find their way back, or else they start causing some other homeowners the same problems that led you to trap them?
He tried this method a while, but the animals always returned. he bought a new shed to replace the old one the squirrels had trashed, then started shooting the animals through the head with a pellet rifle and leaving the carcasses to be dragged away by some unidentified scavengers during the night.
He no longer has much of a problem with squirrels.
My father had done a similar thing to the chipmunks that’d borrowed into his planter box and nearly chewed through the exterior wall of his living room.
My wife and I have recently started a vegan diet. I’ve told people it’s a lot easier to make the shift than one might think, and that what’s motivated me hasn’t been the ethics of eating plants over animals but the long-term health benefits of such a diet. The reduced cancer risks. The cleanliness of cooking vegan. The vigor that comes from eating whole, colorful, various, filling foods.
I used to tell people I wasn’t really all that concerned with the whole ethics-of-eating-animals issue. But now I’m not so sure. I felt weirdly angry watching a young girl toy with and kill a cicada while waiting to run a race. I can hardly stomach the idea of having to deal with a live animal I’ve trapped. The live trap sits out back of our house right now, unset. Just this morning I spied through the kitchen window one of the chipmunks sitting right in front of it, eating what might have been a tree seed pod.
If I do set the trap again, it may finally prove effective. Clearly the animals it’s meant to trap feel it isn’t a threat to them.
Small consolation, I suppose.
I overthink things. My life is small, and perhaps I try to make excuses to avoid doing things that require moral effort. Maybe I’m more concerned with morals or ethics than I thought.
And I must admit I don’t trust this inclination to set these thoughts down here, either, because 1) the subject might not mean anything to you, dear reader, and 2) it’s borderline preachy.
Again with the ethics.
Here’s the thing: doesn’t our approach to small matters color the way we handle bigger issues?
I guess it’s about having some sense of the line between violence and preservation, maybe. Like: there’s what you do to maintain what’s yours, and then there’s what you do out of anger, or negligence, or malice, or boredom.
I know things aren’t so simple. And that’s precisely where I get stuck.
I’ll give over the last of this post to Katherine Mansfield, who wrote a story about a man and a fly. The man has learned his son has been killed in action. A fly lands on the blotter while he’s writing and gets stuck in a dab of ink. He watches it, then he drips ink on the fly until it dies. He is seized by an uncontrollable urge to do this.
Through the killing of the fly, he has finally let himself experience the grief for his lost son which up until that point he’d been holding at bay. He takes control of one small thing when so much lay beyond him.
It’s a gesture we’re made to cringe at and understand simultaneously.
I hate the petty things I do. The frustrations.
Yelling at my dog when he barks and barks.
Getting upset when I don’t make time to write.
Failing time and again to actively pursue the new career I keep telling myself I’m after.
I know I am weak. A little afraid of change. I keep admitting it in hopes I’ll free myself of it. I keep looking at the small things right in front of me for answers.
Yes, it’s just a cicada. But it’s also a way to see why I’m stuck on a ledge, a way to see the dangers of failing generally and of failing specifically — to take a thing seriously, or remain blind to others.
I don’t know if this has made any sense.
I need to get to work.