Amid May’s craziness, my husband and I tugged on the calendar page to make room for a camping trip. We hoped to avoid the Memorial Day weekend, which resembles a wilderness experience in Times Square.
Aha! Luxuriating in retirement, Hubby pointed to the week before the holiday. We would camp in Versailles State Park.
Hubby had never visited it, and my early childhood memories of the park consisted of using my enormous cousin, Ray (he grew to be six feet, 11 inches) as a diving board. This unfamiliar setting promised new adventures for campers eager to explore southern Indiana’s hills.
Yay! Our lovely site, surrounded by tall trees and lush vegetation, bordered the nearly empty campground. We set up our pop-up camper amid beautiful weather, not too hot or too cool.
Except for an odd, reverberating hum whose volume seemed to increase every hour.
Hubby snapped his fingers. “Oh, yeah. Cicadas. I read that the every-17-year swarm – they call this one ‘Brood X’— will arrive this summer.”
I recalled my early childhood fascination with cicadas’ molting. My siblings and I giggled at our mother’s squeals when Dad tossed their empty shells at her. We perched additional shells on the screen door for her viewing pleasure.
Even now, I enjoy cicadas’ late summer concerts.
Brood X’s spooky noise, however, sounded like a veiled threat. I shuddered. “It reminds me of 1960s sci-fi movies, right before aliens show up.”
“The Return of the Monster Cicada,” Hubby intoned in a Vincent Price voice, and threw a shell at me.
The nonstop drone only hinted at southern Indiana’s buggy army invasion. According to Elizabeth Barnes and Cliff Sadof of Purdue University, up to 1.5 million cicadas per acre might leave their 17-year underground childhood as larvae behind and dig out, ready to climb trees and party.
Cicadas gather in groups that rival pre-pandemic multitudes in sports arenas, choosing only certain trees. I thanked God that for the most part, His interesting but noisy little creatures selected those on campsites elsewhere. Big trees, small trees, maples, apple trees – just as fans favor a certain team and stadium, the cicadas whooped it up at favorite Wrigleyvilles.
Only they seemed far less interested in baseball and far more interested in each other. Those insect swingers appeared so desperate for dates that they climbed anything resembling a tree. We found them shinnying up our folded-up camp table. On signposts.
Occasionally, on us.
Fortunately, the Purdue experts assure us that cicadas do not bite humans. Still —
“Get lost.” I brushed off a few would-be suitors. “I’m taken.”
“If we were doing survival camping, you’d ask them to dinner.” Hubby consulted his smartphone. “They’re low in cholesterol. See, somebody topped cookies with them.”
“I wouldn’t survive cicada cookies,” I retorted, “and neither would you.”
On Day Two, I suggested a walk around the historic Versailles town square. Maybe that would provide relief from the critters’ racket.
Ooooooo-mmmmmmm. The weird bug love song still sounded as if each crooned into a microphone. Piles of cicada shells grew beneath big shade trees. We tiptoed along sidewalks to avoid squishing our fellow pedestrians.
If cicadas had blessed Versailles with their presence the year Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan and his raiders rode through southern Indiana, maybe the pests would have cut their campaign short.
Though human nature is human nature. In the biblical account of the Hebrew slave exodus, Egyptians refused to cooperate, despite plagues of locusts, gnats, flies and frogs. The devastation of their fields and flocks – possibly, even subsistence on locust-gnat-fly-frog cookies – did not change their stubborn minds.
Back at our lovely and largely cicada-less campsite, I ignored ooo-mmms and gave thanks for bugless s’mores. For a fun experience amid beautiful, rugged hills, despite the swarm.
When we returned home, I gave double thanks that our area seems largely untouched by Brood X. Though cicadas consider the entire state of Indiana a favorite party destination – eat your hearts out, Florida and California – the bugs definitely prefer areas south of Indianapolis.
Hang in there, Versailles, French Lick, Martinsville and Nashville. Brood X soon will be history, and another 17 years will pass before you endure more ooo-mmms.
If I still camp at age 85, though, I think I will head north.