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When They Were Seventeen,

By LC Van Savage

It Was A Very Good Year

Oh, say it ainít so. Did I hear correctly? Are those wonderful Seventeen Year Locusts not coming to a town near us? Or are they? Iím hoping yes. I have a lot of sweet memories of those strangely fascinating creepy crawlers, also known to the insect elite as ďperiodical cicadasĒ or ďmagicicada septemdecim.Ē Come on, letís face it; how weird is it that a bug comes up out of hiding every seventeen years and makes its presence known? I mean how do they know the seventeen years are up? Itís an oddball number, after all. I could possibly understand 20 years, 100, 50 maybe. But seventeen? (OK, some show up every 13 years, but I favor the 17 year insects. More mature.) And who can sleep that long anyway?

When I was about 11 or 12 on Staten Island, NY the locusts awoke, and the din was wonderful and loud and never annoying to me, although a lot of bad tempered adults made a big scene about it, holding their ears, complaining a lot. It was pre-AC back then after all, so windows were all open allowing in any hot breezes and all loud noises. Hey, those cranky oldsters also hated the marvelous sound of regular annual summer cicadas, their songs sounding like someone humming through cellophane wrapped around a comb. Fabulous. Pure summertime music!

Being a Tomboy who loved snakes and lizards, frogs, mice and bugs, toads, birds, turtles and snails, all insects and worms, anything gross and alive, these 17 year locust beauties really held my interest. I collected all their abandoned outer plasticky see-through, crackly exoskeletons on the sides of trees, their tiny spikey legs pulling away from the bark, sometimes leaving a leg or two behind. I had bags of them. Why? No idea.

I remember watching them split their ways out of the backs of those exoskeletons and wandering away, wobbly, white, gooshy until they became genuine, shiny big fat locusts. There were so many of those newborns that as I flew about my neighborhood roads on my big blue and white Schwinn bike, Iíd squish them under the balloon tires, but never on purpose. It was like running an insect obstacle course and honestly I tried to avoid them, but after one of my long rides around the countryside, my tires were pretty coated with the wee creatures. (Iíve offered up many supplications to their spirits asking forgiveness.)

I missed those locusts when they vanished. Did the ones I didnít murder beneath those Schwinn tires manage to lay eggs somewhere that took another 17 years to hatch? Wow, talk about your long broodings; good thing they donít have mothers and fathers waiting for the crackle/clicking of little, spiny feet. But back then, I likely ran over most of their parents anyway.

Yeah, I do miss them. But I miss a lot of wildlife I never see anymore. For example, where did the rabbits go? Our lawns always had munching bunnies all over them, but no more. I havenít seen a wild rabbit in decades. And where did all the tomato caterpillars go? Remember those big fat thick bright green hairless caterpillars on the stalks of ---well, just about everything in your parentsí vegetable gardens? No one liked those big beauties because they could eat about 25 lbs. of garden stuff in a day, but I sure liked them. Green skin like a babyís butt, if you know any babies with green butts, and they felt as if they weighed at least a pound when you held them in your hands. Harmless and beautiful.

I didnít cotton much to the hairy caterpillar types. I put about 50 of them into my jeans pocket once, small and yellow, and developed a swollen rash on my hip that looked like an uncooked ham. And throb? Itch? Only a stiff-bristled nylon hairbrush stopped that insane itching, and only until it drew blood.

And what about box turtles? They were all over the place. What happened to them? I caught so many, kept them around for a while and set them free. Once I painted my phone number in tiny white numbers on the back of one big old box turtle and about 4 years later the phone rang on a hot July day, I answered and a manís voice said ďGotcha turtle.Ē I drove to his home, surprisingly far away, found my old friend waiting for me in the manís garage, took him back to my house, painted over those numbers in black and set him free in a nearby forest.

I miss all those great gifts of nature. Those critters are all gone now because we arrived on their turf and wrecked it, right? I wish theyíd come back, but I think they just donít want to. Or canít. But oh my yes, the locusts are coming, the locusts are coming!! Sometimes life can be so good!


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