Entering Provincetown: The East End

Back in the Covid summer of 2020, it seemed reasonable to hope that in a year, a visit to the Cape would no longer involve considerable pandemic restrictions for the vaccinated. But that was well before the rise of the Delta variant and Provincetown’s post-July 4th surge in breakthrough infections. Therefore, many of our favorite activities–dining inside at restaurants, seeing musical and comedy shows, singing in a packed crowd of strangers around Bobby Wetherbee’s piano at the Crown & Anchor–remained off limits. There would be no festive Ptown nightlife for us this time, sadly. We didn’t, and still don’t, want to take risks that could bring the virus back to my mother. But walking through town in the early mornings, when the streets are nearly empty, seemed safe. I don’t always walk down Shore Road further into Truro. Sometimes I head in the opposite direction, and before long, I’m in Provincetown.

In terms of actual area, Provincetown is a small place. Its narrow, curving peninsula occupies about seventeen and half square miles. But surrounded on three sides by water, and with the vast, ever-changing sky above, it seems much larger. The year-round population is less than 3,500, but it swells to about 60,000 in the summer. The town’s spirit, too, like its capacity to receive guests, is generous, expansive, and welcoming.

Provincetown’s colorful present is matched by a colorful past; there’s a lot of history here. The original residents were the Nauset tribe, who interacted with the Pilgrims not long after they arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. The Nauset, and their neighbors the Wampanoag, like many of the Europeans who followed, valued the area and its deep, protected harbor, primarily for its excellent fishing. The Pilgrims moved on in two months to Plymouth, but the colony continued to rely heavily on fish from its waters. The town was a prominent whaling center for nearly two hundred years. Provincetown whaling ships sailed as far as the Azore Islands, where Portugese sailors often joined the crews. By the 1860s, Provincetown was home to a substantial, and growing, Portugese community. The railroad made the remote village more accessible in the 1870s, and the area’s great natural beauty began attracting tourists and artists. The first of many art schools opened in 1899. By the early twentieth century, Provincetown had become a destination for writers and theater people, as well as visual artists. In the summer of 1916, the Provincetown Players gave the first-ever performance of a play by the young Eugene O’Neil. When Tennessee Williams arrived in 1940, a gay community was already flourishing. In the 50s and early 60s, attempts were made to shutter gay-themed entertainment spots. These efforts failed. Today, Provincetown welcomes everyone. It’s a big-hearted, good-humored, judgment-free zone, a place where no one is a misfit, where no one is friendless for long.

And it’s a beautiful place. In the quiet early morning, it’s especially easy to appreciate the town’s charming architecture and gardens, and to catch near-hidden glimpses of the bay between buildings. On my walk from Truro, I usually pause at a wooden stairway leading to the beach, where I take in the view above. The big white house at far right, with the bay and the curve of the town behind it, is one of the most frequently painted and photographed scenes on the entire Cape. A Colonial Revival built in 1917, the house is situated near the division of Route 6A into the town’s two main streets, Commercial and Bradford. It’s at this point that Provincetown starts to look and feel like a real town, rather than a sparse collection of homes along the water’s edge. All the buildings in this post are situated along Commercial Street.

Provincetown has the typical resort town’s share of tee shirt and knick-knack shops. But even most of these are enclosed in architecturally charming exteriors, and clustered primarily in the busy central section. After passing the white Colonial house, I’m in the largely residential East End, a contrast to the touristy bustle of the town center. The front yard pocket gardens along this peaceful stretch of Commercial Street are often color-coordinated and carefully tended. They offer proof that small, thoughtfully planted spaces can pack an outsized visual punch. Many art galleries are mixed in among the East End homes.

Originally the Eastern School, the towered structure above, like many historic Provincetown buildings, has seen several uses. It’s currently the home of art galleries and WOMR-FM (Outermost Community Radio).

Teeny tiny Iota Cottage, above, got its name from a former owner, Jonathan “Jot” Small, who somehow managed to run a restaurant here in the 1930s.

A few homes, like this one on the land side of Commercial Street, stand out for their luxuriously expansive lawns, rare in beach communities.

I find it hard to imagine a more pleasant low-key approach to the water than this narrow, rose-bordered sandy lane.

Small blue plaques on many Provincetown buildings indicate points of historical importance and associations with well-known people. The house above was the home of Donald MacMillan (1874-1970), for whom MacMillan Wharf, in the town center, is named. The influential Arctic explorer, scientist, sailor and teacher lived here as an adult; he was born a few doors down on Commercial Street.

The current owners clearly delight in their unique and historic home. I often notice what appears to be a dog puppet perched, as though to welcome guests and greet passersby, in the upper, open half of the Dutch door. I see this happy puppet, accompanied by seasonal decorations, as a manifestation of Provincetown’s jovial, quirky hospitality. Look closely, and you’ll see similar expressions all over town. It’s just that kind of place.

Check back next week, as the Provincetown tour continues into the center of town and out onto Bradford Street.

Shore Road, Once Again

After a two-year absence, I was eager to get back to my early morning walks along Shore Road in Truro this August. The section that we’d seen upon arrival appeared largely unchanged, much to our relief. As I’ve written previously, it’s this persistent sameness, this enduring sense of place, that our family has come to treasure so dearly.

This view is from Route 6A looking across Route 6 to a sliver of Pilgrim Lake.

My first Shore Road walk this summer reassured me that my favorite ribbon of land was much as I remembered it. No unexpected new structures intruded. Stretches of semi-wild landscape patches remained between buildings. Hearty, low-growing roses and juniper continued to thrive along the fence rows.

As hoped for, as anticipated, the familiar elements, like old buddies, were there: the glorious Cape hydrangeas that flourish in the salty sea air. . . 

. . .the simple white cottages of Pilgrim Colony, grouped around a neatly manicured central green. . .

. . .and the tidy, picturesque homes of Bay Colony, set off from the road by a white picket fence and a thick hedge of well-tended roses.

Days Cottages, those identical little white boxes set in a long line, looked exactly the same. Each tiny, green-shuttered house bears the name of a flower: Bluebell, Peony, Dahlia. They’ve changed very little since they were built, beginning in 1931. The land is particularly narrow here, so that at high tide, the bay is but a few short steps from the front of each cottage, and Shore Road a few steps from the back.

Several years ago, the Days family sold off the last of the units to individual buyers and retired to Florida. The exceptionally well-stocked grocery/news stand/all-purpose beach store associated with the cottages was closed and shuttered during our visit in 2018. We feared it would be razed and the land developed. Instead, it was sold to a new family, who runs it as Days Market and Deli. An upscale specialty grocery and cafe, it’s a popular spot for coffee, pastries, soups and lobster rolls.

The threat of big change on Shore Road was satisfactorily averted.

My favorite homes continued to endure, like this weathered Victorian cottage, with its yellow shutters and white gingerbread trim. On a somewhat overcast day, a solitary mourning dove sat on the telephone line out front.

This pair of very similar Dutch Colonial houses appeared just as I remembered them. They sit close together on a bit of high ground, with few other structures nearby. Like Days Cottages, they’re a frequent subject for Cape artists.

The most significant transformation along Shore road was one that had been long anticipated, and therefore didn’t seem especially dramatic. On the site of the old motel that sat empty and decaying for over twenty years, two sizable, but not overly large residences are nearing completion. For photos of the property as nature took its course in years past, as well as other Shore Road locales, see my posts from 2012 and 2013.

Most other changes on Shore Road involved the gradual yielding of the built environment to nature’s determined advances. For as long as I can remember, the expansive lot above has been occupied by a single small, gradually deteriorating cottage and several decorative birdhouses. See That Satisfying Sameness on Shore Road, September 18, 2018. There were some years when considerable effort had been made to keep the ever-encroaching foliage at bay. This August, nature was winning. The grape vines along the remains of the old fence were wild and thick, the grass was tall, and only a couple of birdhouses remained. The little building was more dilapidated than ever, but its sailboat weather vane still protruded at an angle from the corner of the roof line.

Before long, only the cupola and weather vane of this small cottage may be visible above the growing tangle of plant life. The building, like a humble Sleeping Beauty cabin, has been in slow decline for two decades.

The small structure above, along with the picnic table, has occupied an otherwise empty lot for many years. This summer, there was one minor modification to the building. It received a hand-painted sign bearing an identifying label, or perhaps a name: SHED. On Shore Road, my comfortable, beloved old friend, that’s the kind of subtle change I can support and appreciate.

Past and Present, Wrapped up Together in our Summer Village on the Cape

Our family’s long-time summer destination sits on the skinny finger of land between Cape Cod Bay and Route 6A, or Shore Road. When seen from the water, the small cottages appear to be nestled between the sea grass and a low hill of dunes that rises along the banks of Pilgrim Lake.

As the aerial photo above shows, the complex resembles a miniature village. The look is classic Old Cape Cod. Basic, simple, absolutely without pretense. On each side of the central pool, two rows of white cottages, built in the 1940s, face a grassy, rectangular courtyard. Six additional cottages are covered in weathered cedar shakes. Constructed in the 80s, these are off the greens, clustered in the sand. In the broad expanse that leads to the water are two narrow boardwalks and a fire pit enclosed by a semi-circle of sturdy wooden chairs. The wide beach, unusual for the area, has grown much bigger over the years. When the colony was new, the high tide mark reached all the way up to the line where the beach grass begins now. It would seem that every bit of sand that’s continually swept away from the rest of waterfront Truro is being deposited here.

A trellis-topped archway and white picket fence mark the entrance to one of the greens.

The cottages farthest from the water have the benefit of being surrounded on all sides by a grassy lawn planted with bountiful hydrangeas.

The photo above shows the cottage that my family will probably always think of as “Grandma and Grandpa’s place.” It’s the one that my husband remembers as the vacation home from his childhood, beginning in the 1970s. His parents last occupied it in 2018. Sadly, that visit made it clear that their health issues had become too daunting to make the trip worthwhile.

There are several models of the white cottages. Those across each green are mirror images of one other.

The cedar-shingled cottage above is the one our family returns to in early August. It sits just in front and to the side of H’s parents’ old place.

A sandy lane separates this row of cottages from the pool. There are no paved roads in our summer village.

Just as I often expect to see my husband’s parents planted in their beach chairs every time I approach their old cottage, I can’t go to the pool without recalling the way our daughter, as a baby, delighted in the glistening, chilly water. The photo above shows her with my husband in 2001, on her very first visit to the Cape.

Nearly every spot in our pleasant village conjures an image of our daughter as she has been, over the years. I can see her at two and a half, sitting happily outside our cottage, talking to herself while pouring sand into a cup.

I remember her as a little girl, pausing on a sandy path leading to the water, a wistful expression on her face.

I see her as a young teenager, the summer before she began middle school.

All the while, I see and give thanks for the strong, compassionate, intelligent young woman she has become. Here she is this August with Dozer, one of the owner’s dogs.

As our daughter has grown, and as my husband and I have simply aged,  our summer village has changed only minimally.  Here in this timeless place, more than anywhere else, I hold simultaneously in my mind’s eye the various stages of our family’s life.  With our every return to this sliver of sandy ground that floats serenely between sea and sky, I feel what it means to be young, to be old, and everything in between, and even beyond.  The day will come when H and I, like Grandma and Grandpa, no longer make the trip.  Will there be a time when our daughter gazes at the sunset over the Cape while watching her own child contentedly pouring sand into a cup?  I think I can see that, too.  

Back on the Cape, One Constant in an Ever-Shifting View

Last summer, the pandemic interfered with our annual trip to Cape Cod.  For the first time in twenty years, our family failed to spend part of August at the modest little cottage complex in Truro that we love so well. My husband began going there with his parents and siblings when he was a little boy.  Our journey to the Cape is not just a vacation; it’s more like a pilgrimage.  That narrow ribbon of land, curved like a hook into the bay, is, to us, if not quite the promised land, then something quite close to it.  Certainly it’s a second home.  We have no financial claim to any bit of real estate there, but we’re loyal renters.  More importantly, as pilgrimage sites do, the place has claimed us as its own. 

When we return, we go back to the same waterfront cottage, at the same time every year. We reconnect with many of the same families. We look out to a vast expanse of sand that leads to Cape Cod Bay, framed on each side by islands of sea grass and wild roses. The spare, simple skyline of Provincetown, about a mile away, appears to float atop the water. Its most distinctive feature, appropriately, is the tall, granite bell tower that commemorates the arrival of the original Pilgrims to the area, in 1620. Five weeks before landing at Plymouth, the Mayflower docked at what is now Provincetown Harbor. Due to rough weather, the ship had missed its mark in Northern Virginia. Anchored far north in Massachusetts, where the contract the Pilgrims had signed with the Virginia Company was deemed void, the group determined “to covenant and combine . . .together into a civil body politic,” to maintain order and the common good. So it was in Provincetown that the Mayflower Compact, an early and largely successful attempt at democracy, was written and signed. The Pilgrim Monument, now the symbol of the town’s warm, accepting and all-inclusive spirit, reminds us that great things are possible when we work together. For residents and returning pilgrims like our family, it’s a welcoming beacon. I love it that the tower is the anchoring feature in the ever-changing view from our little cottage.

The Pilgrim Monument was completed in 1910. Its design was based on the civic symbol of Siena, the 14h century Torre del Mangia in the Piazzo del Campo, the town’s main square. Other features of Provincetown’s narrow silhouette are two water towers, several church steeples, and the Town Hall tower.

Our view toward the bay varies minute by minute with the shifting of the light, the play of the clouds and the passage of the hours.  The ethereal, transformative quality of Cape light has long made this area a favorite destination for artists. Above, around noontime, the sun glints off sparkling blue water, and a line of clouds hugs the horizon, in an otherwise clear sky.   

On partially overcast afternoons, the water tends to turn silvery, like a sea of mercury. It’s often on days like this that the wind picks up, and my husband, and also now our daughter, may be out windsurfing.

One evening toward sunset, a sky resembling orange sherbet settled above the town’s dark silhouette and a bay of molten lead.

The color of the sand is changeable, as well. In early mornings and late afternoons, it may take on a peachy pink cast, as in the photos above and below. The dark patches of seaweed that litter the beach no doubt seem unsightly to some. But we’ve grown so used to it that it’s no longer remarkable. It’s just more evidence of the abundant life that thrives in and around the bay.

Windsurfing boards await my husband and daughter.

Occasionally, as a storm or dense fog moves in, all the towers of Provincetown are rendered completely invisible. 

To me, the loveliest time of the day is just before sunset, when the shadows in the sand turn a magical, brilliant blue.

Sunset itself, on every clear day, is an event that brings our small, enduring community outside in admiration and awe. The sky often glows with streaks of increasingly fiery red, orange and yellow. And then, as the brilliant colors gradually dissipate, and Cape light fades into Cape night, the Pilgrim Monument is illuminated. Its white granite glows clean and bright against the dark sky. The tower is typically the last thing I see before I close my eyes at night. How comforting to know it is there, a reassuring beacon at all hours, in all weathers and seasons.

Still Here

September is here, and another summer has passed in a blur.  The view out every window in our house today is likewise blurry.  The panes are wet and foggy in the aftermath of last night’s ferocious storm.  As the remnants of Hurricane Ida passed through our area, I held my frightened dog as close as I could.  For the first time in all his fourteen years, Kiko put his head right beside mine on my pillow.  When he was younger, I might have said absolutely not: that’s too much doggie closeness.  But last night, his little body, which trembled violently with every pulse of lightning, felt thin, fragile, and frail.  My elastic, invincible puppy had long ago morphed into a senior dog.  Very recently, he’s become an old man, often stiff, uncertain and hesitant.  And in that middle-of-the-night angst that seizes me occasionally, my dog wasn’t the only one needing comfort.  The strobe-effect lightning, the crashing thunder and the pounding rain seemed like a frenetic, wailing choral expression of world-wide pain. 

There is more than enough grief and suffering to go around, these days.   We’re eighteen months into a pandemic that continues to wreak havoc when it should be winding down.  Every snippet of news, every glimpse of a headline, attests to some novel catastrophe of global proportions.  Raging wildfires.  Sudden, unpredictable floods.  Another day, another mass shooting.  Young lives tragically lost in the very last gasp of our twenty-year conflict in Afghanistan, and so many lives in peril now because the war is over.  Everywhere, peace is more elusive and unlikely than ever.  If Edvard Munch were alive today, his most well-known work, The Scream, might be a long series of paintings.  All of these sad and frustrating thoughts swirled in my head as I cuddled my dog during the storm.    

With the morning light, dully yellow-gray as it was, the world never seems quite so hopeless.  My dog is still old, but he’s no longer shaking with fear.  Surviving a storm typically reinvigorates him temporarily.  The news is still mostly bad, of course.  And there is this significant transition to reckon with: our daughter has moved to Maryland and started her job. The summer flew by in a blur because there was so much to do as we anticipated and prepared for this major change.  We were busy.  And now that long-awaited change is here.  The new life phase that our daughter begins is brimming with purpose and meaning: a new address, the start of a career, a time to chart her own unique course, one no longer set by her parents.  And what of us, her mother and father, now true empty-nesters?  We’re elated for our daughter.  And anxious, as well.  We’ll be cheerleaders for her, certainly.  But what will we make of our new life phase?  Will we find ways to fill it with purpose and meaning?  That will be our challenge in the coming days.  That, and dealing with our elderly dog.    

Oh What a Beautiful Morning!

On the 5th of July, had my dog not needed walking, I might have missed the spectacular beauty of the morning.  There are days now when Kiko sleeps in, curled contentedly in his fluffy bed, oblivious to the sunlight flooding in around him.  But on Monday, he was up early and ready to step out.  Maybe he was feeling cocky after having finally realized that the terrible Fireworks Monster is not a big deal.  This year, he wasn’t traumatized as in the past by the crackles and booms of our neighborhood celebration. Gradual hearing loss may have its good points.  The noises seemed to make him marginally uneasy, but not nervous enough to pace the house in a restless search for consolation that is perpetually out of reach.  Instead, he remained settled in his bed even after the fireworks began to pop.  He seemed sufficiently relaxed so that I decided to join my family and friends for the show for the first time in years, instead of cocooning myself with my quaking dog in a curtained room with heavy blankets and a loud TV.  On our return, Kiko greeted us with what I interpreted as an air of studied nonchalance.  “I’m cool,” he seemed to say.  “But no thanks to you.  I know you left me alone.”      

For whatever reason, Kiko was up early the following day, with a particular pep in his step, and so I was up and out, also, in time to witness the sparkling glory of the post-Independence Day morning.  A golden haze suffused the air, and the sun’s rays were clearly visible, as in a child’s drawing.  Kiko found it annoying that I kept stopping to take photos, which can’t quite capture the radiance of the morning.  As we walked down our neighbor’s front walk after bringing the Washington Post to her door, the glowing light streaming through the trees resembled an image of the entrance to heaven.  In the unusually peaceful quiet of the holiday morning (no rushing traffic, no typical suburban summer sounds of lawn mowing, tree cutting, leaf blowing and power washing) it could be appreciated without distraction.

Kiko’s interest, as always, lay in scents instead of sights.  The fascinating smorgasbord of smells kept him briskly on the move as he led the way, with purpose, toward his favorite little park.  By that time, the shimmering mist was dissipating, but there among the woods, it lingered still.   

Kiko maintained a quick pace on our return.  My elderly, slowly meandering dog was temporarily replaced by his former puppy self.  When we reached the home stretch, he began to run.  My knees resisted, but I did my best to keep up. 

Once home, Kiko was soon cozily snuggled in his bed.  The dog who emerges revived and invigorated after a long night of fireworks certainly deserves his rest. 

Let Us Long Remember. . .

On this 4th of July, 2021, and every day, Abraham Lincoln’s words spoken at the dedication of the Gettysburg Battlefield in November of 1863 are well worth recalling.  May we honor these words, just as we honor those who gave their lives to defend the principles upon which our nation was founded.  May we continue to defend these principles, by accepting and learning from the truth, even when it is painful.   

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate–we can not consecrate–we can not hallow–this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. ” 

 

Let us remember that as Americans, true patriotic duty is expressed not by proclaiming our country to be flawless, but instead to work together, despite our differences, toward a more perfect Union. 

Happy 4th of July!

For Brood X, Mission Accomplished

The cicadas of Brood X have fulfilled their mission.  They’ve done their part to further the species.  The seventeen-year cycle has begun again, and the proof is all around us.  It’s in the hanging patches of brown leaves appearing at the ends of tree branches, every day, in greater numbers.  The oaks seem to be especially popular as Brood X egg incubators. 

The reproductive success of Brood X is evident in the clumps of silver maple leaves that dot our front yard. 

A close look at the fallen branches reveals a series of incisions in the young bark.  These were made by the female cicada as she deposited her eggs, using a swordlike abdominal appendage called an ovipositor. While it’s often noted that cicadas do not harm humans or animals, this evidently depends on the mama-to-be not mistaking a living creature for a tree.  If I’m still around in the summer of 2038, I hope I remember not to sit or stand perfectly still outside for an extended period.  One female may lay as many as five hundred eggs, in batches of five to twenty, among several trees.  When the eggs hatch about six weeks later, tiny nymphs emerge, fall to the ground and begin tunneling into the soil, launching the next seventeen-year subterranean phase.  

Brood X has gone silent and still, but their physical presence will be with us for some time.  Cicada bodies, often perfectly intact, are strewn along the ground and nestled into foliage.  The cicada above, though deceased, appears to be napping comfortably on its back in a pleasant rhododendron hammock.  The insects’ wings and body parts, frequently snapped off cleanly like 3-D puzzle pieces, are all around.   The discarded exoskeletons will remain for quite a while, as well. 

I’m glad that Kiko got to experience the cicadas of Brood X.  They gave our old boy the rare opportunity, in his own little mind, at least, for successful hunting.  Many of his fellow canine colleagues immediately recognized the big insects as tasty treats and gobbled them up as soon as they began appearing.  My dog, dainty and fastidious in eating as in every activity, took his time to warm up to the idea of snacking on Brood Xers.  The mob was on the wane before he developed a taste for their flavor.  We would watch as he slowly approached a cicada, stared intently at it for a while, before moving in quickly and decisively to devour it.  As far as we could tell, he never ate a live cicada, but he clearly thought he was participating in the thrill of the chase.  My daughter noticed that he seemed to relish rooting around for them in the grass like a truffle pig.  A cicada wing dangles from his mouth in the photos above and below. 

The cicadas of Brood X have accomplished their goal.  While tangible evidence of their brief existence will fade, their legacy endures.  Soon, their progeny will be underfoot everywhere in our northern Virginia neighborhood, invisible in the above-ground world, but nevertheless thriving as intended.  We can read countless philosophical insights into the brief appearance and long apparent absence of these periodical cicadas.  I can imagine the question appearing on SAT and ACT essay prompts.  One lesson from Brood X that strikes home with me is this: what we see in everyday life is only a small slice of that which is real.  And, even more importantly, a shift in perspective may render the unseen visible.  As I age, I’m becoming increasingly aware that some things are not what they seem, or at least not the way I’ve previously understood them to be.  I’m learning that, to see more clearly and understand more comprehensively,  a new and occasionally uncomfortable viewpoint is sometimes necessary.

Brood X also reminds me that the imprint we humans leave on our world and on those around us, for good or bad, may not be immediately apparent.  The fruit of the cicada’s short life is long delayed.  But with the fullness of time, its effect is significant.  And while human actions and  words may not produce instantaneous and seismic changes,  they will indeed have consequences.  May we work for good even when we cannot expect to see the products of our labor.  May we strive to build bridges with the blocks at hand. And may better building blocks and methods be developed in the future, by our children and our children’s children, if we consciously choose to guide them in that direction.  Our days of toiling, buzzing and flying, like the cicada’s, are relatively brief.  May we use them well.    

Brood X, At Peak

The loudest, craziest days of Brood X are behind us now in Northern Virginia.  Peak cicada activity occurred here during the first two weeks of June.  When we left for Rochester over Memorial Day Weekend,  we hadn’t spotted a single cicada in my mother’s back yard. When we returned, even that area was a teeming hotbed of Brood X action. 

The big insects were everywhere. Perched, with plenty of company, on trees, flowers, foliage fences and outdoor furniture. Slogging through the grass in droves. Struggling on their backs, trying to right themselves on every paved surface. And flying, flying, flying. Careening clumsily into people and pets. It was the rare dog walk that didn’t require stopping to detach multiple cicadas from clothing or skin. They dotted car tires. They caused mechanical problems in the airplane that was to fly the White House press corps overseas for President Biden’s first European trip. And oh, the noise, noise, noise. It was especially loud in the heat of bright sunny days. It cascaded in great waves, building to a crescendo, then diminishing. Rising and falling, again and again. The most apt comparison is probably the rapidly pulsing sound made by UFOs in old sci-fi movies. Except instead of one small spindly flying saucer, there were millions. In the midst of the corporate choirs, nearby individual cicadas could also be distinguished.

We oversaw and enjoyed a wide variety of cicada encounters.  My daughter and I watched a cicada face off with a skink atop a pillar in our back yard.  As the striped lizard lay poised and motionless, the insect plodded over with typical Brood X unhurried determination.  Once a hair’s breadth of being nose-to-nose, the two eyed one another with what appeared to be careful consideration. Friend?  Foe?  Prey? Potential sex partner? Perhaps none of these options, the cicada calculated, then made a painstakingly slow three-point turn and proceeded in the opposite direction.  The skink remained perfectly immobile. 

I found one cicada with eyes of golden yellow instead of the usual bright red.  In 2004, a rare blue-eyed fellow dropped by our front porch, but we saw none this year.  A blue eyed cicada is statistically a one-in-a-million occurrence.   However, considering that up to 1.5 million members of Brood X may emerge per acre, encountering a blue-eyed one is more common than it sounds.   

One tree in my mother’s yard, a maple with leaves of greenish purple, hosted a veritable Brood X traffic jam.  During the first week of June, the insects were making their way up the trunk and into the bigger branches.  The next week, they were higher up in the smaller limbs that could be more easily sliced open by the females as they deposited their eggs. 

Our attempt at cicada-proofing the crepe myrtles.

These cicada-made slits at the ends of narrow branches cause them to weaken and break. Mature trees typically suffer no permanent damage, but younger,  smaller trees are more vulnerable.  We were concerned for the health of two crepe myrtles we planted a few years ago by my mother’s back deck.  Before we left for New York, my husband constructed a wooden framework around each tree that could be covered with screening, if needed.  Maybe it wouldn’t be necessary, we reasoned.  But when we returned to see the pronounced cicada activity on the adjacent maple, we proceeded with the screening.  As we see brown patches developing on surrounding trees,  and clumps of maple leaves littering our front yard, we’re glad we did. 

Brood X is still with us, but now in numbers that are drastically decreased.   The roar of the crowd has vanished, but the buzzing of a tardy few can still be heard.  These are the days of the stragglers, the late-bloomers, the procrastinators.  I have a special appreciation for the last of these awkward winged visitors.  After all, they won’t be back again for a long time. 

Father’s Day 2021

My father and I at my grandparents’ home in Lebanon, KY, ca. 1965.

Hats off to all the men who make the little people in their lives feel welcome, loved and safe, the way I felt in my dear daddy’s arms.  Cheers to the good guys who have the strength and courage to be kind, nurturing, supportive, and occasionally vulnerable.  May the blessings you provide be returned to you with interest.  Happy Father’s Day, fathers and fatherly men! 

A blog about motherhood, marriage and life: the joys and frustrations, beauty and absurdity, blessings and pain. It's about looking back, looking ahead, and walking the dog.