Thank you, this Veterans’ Day to all those who put their lives on the line to defend our country and our freedom. My father is the first veteran in our family that I typically think of on this day set aside to honor those who’ve served. My Uncle Bill is the second. Daddy was stationed in Regensburg, Germany, with the U.S. Army Occupational Forces following World War II. My mother’s brother, Bill, enlisted at sixteen and served as a Frogman in the Pacific.
While looking for a photo of Daddy or Uncle Bill to post on Veterans’ Day, I came across a picture of another family member in a military uniform. I don’t recall my father ever mentioning his distant cousin, Hunter, above. According to the inscription on the back of the photo, in Daddy’s neat handwriting, Hunter was a Lieutenant in the Air Service during World War I. He was born August 30, 1895 in Jane Lew, West Virginia, which is also my grandmother’s home town. He survived the war, and died at age sixty-five on May 9, 1960 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. He’s buried in Arlington Cemetery. The photo bears no date, but it must have been taken in 1917 or ’18, when he was twenty-two or twenty-three. When he was my daughter’s age.
I learned from another cousin that Hunter was the son of my great-grandmother’s brother, which makes him my grandmother’s first cousin. He was married in 1922 to a woman named Marion, and together they had at least one child, a son. I wish we knew more about Hunter’s experiences during the war. I wish I could read some of his letters home, as we’ve read my Uncle Bill’s. I wish we knew more about Hunter’s later years, as well. I hope he has grandchildren now keeping his memory alive. I hope they have photos that document other notable stages in their grandfather’s life. But I’m grateful that at least I have this lone visual record, this window into Hunter’s young adulthood, when he was a dashing pilot in jodhpurs and goggles, striking a jaunty pose before climbing into his plane to do his patriotic duty. Thank you, cousin Hunter, for your youthful confidence and courage. I hope it stood you in good stead throughout your life.
The last time our daughter was home for Halloween was in 2017, her senior year in high school. Her return for the recent holiday weekend therefore seemed extra special. Slim was eager to see our daughter, as well. He recognized her as his ideal partner in preparing for all things Halloween. She is nearly as big a fan of the day as he is. Ever since she was a toddler, Halloween anticipation has begun for her in the summer. (See Friendly Ghosts of Halloweens Past, October 2013.)
In 2020, because of Covid, young parents in our neighborhood organized a Halloween parade, with all trick-or-treating outside. The kids progressed from one end of the neighborhood to the other, to tables set up by families in front of their homes. It worked so well and was so enjoyable that they decided to do it again this year. I liked it because it made it easier to appreciate the costumes and gave more time to chat with kids and their parents.
Our daughter was determined to make our Halloween display as thorough as possible. Slim was equally zealous, of course. Together, they hauled out all the old, mostly homemade decorations that D recalls fondly from her childhood: Fred, the stuffed dummy, the tombstone and graveyard fencing, various skulls and bones, jack-o’-lantern votives, spiders and spiderwebs. They festooned our tables for treats in appropriately witchy garb. They set up the fog machine and an outdoor speaker for projecting spooky sounds. They rolled out the love seats from the garage so we could be comfortably seated during the parade. This persuaded even my mother to join us. When we began to see the children approaching, Slim climbed up in a cherry tree, and D, wearing the gorilla costume that we just happen to have, hid herself from view.
As each group of children chose their treats, my husband, holding a heavy chain, would ask, “Has anyone seen my pet gorilla?” Then D would pop up from behind the love seat and jump around. The performance was well-received, usually with genuine surprise. No one was overly frightened, which was as intended, but one little boy asked his mother to remain close by his side as he got his candy. Several trick-or-treaters, and possibly one parent, wearing an inflatable T-Rex costume, engaged in high-spirited dance-offs with the gorilla.
Thanks to our friendly neighborhood, the parade, to the presence of Slim and our daughter, this Halloween was one of the happiest I can remember. It was rewarding to see just how many children live among us. We were impressed by the innovative costumes, on both kids and adults. How satisfying it was to see neighbors out socializing as they provided treats. As Slim likes to remind us, Halloween has evolved from an ancient Celtic harvest festival into a day when we affirm our common humanity through a love of sugar. It’s a day to welcome back, unapologetically, the child that abides within us, no matter our age. A time to share some sweetness and joy with others, simply because we’re God’s children here together. After all, it’s the custom to give candy not only to those we know personally, but to everyone who stops by.
It was a perfect top-off to the evening when a small Superhero jumped out of a highly decorated SUV and brought us a festively wrapped bottle of sparkling wine. We’d won one of the prizes for best display. Our daughter’s and Slim’s efforts had paid off. We’d given treats, and we got a treat. That, my friends, is Halloween, isn’t it?
Slim was more than excited to learn that Trunk or Treat at our church was back on this year, after being Covid-canceled in 2020.
He jumped for joy when he heard that our daughter would be returning from Maryland for Halloween weekend. He hadn’t seen her since he popped in on her unexpectedly in Charlottesville in 2018 for Trick or Treating on the Lawn. (See here and here.) On a beautiful Saturday, with perfect fall weather, D joined Slim, me and the pack in the church parking lot, to greet and provide candy fuel to a large and enthusiastic crowd of happy, creatively-costumed kids and their families. After so much isolation during the darkest days of the pandemic, the gathering was especially cheery. The rousing music provided by our church pianist from a keyboard in the back of his pick-up truck served to further heighten the mood. Slim sang along with every tune, as his musical reportoire is vast.
On the ride home, he was simply giddy. I repeatedly had to remind my rowdy passenger to remain seated. He waved eagerly at passing cars and emitted celebratory whoops, hoots and hollers. He belted out a steady stream of snippets from his favorite party songs: Cel-e-brate good times, come on! . . . Let’s paint the town! And shut it down! . . .We’re gonna party like it’s 1999! . . I got me a car, it seats about twenty, so come on and bring your jukebox money! . . .Well, I’m just out of school, like a real, real cool. Gotta dance like a fool, Got the message that I’ve gotta be a wild one, Oh yeah, I’m a wild one. . .
Yes, that Slim, he’s a wild one. But his is a sweet, innocent wildness, like that of a child. And his humor is infectious; he can bring a smile to even the dourest of faces. I’m glad he’s here. Everyone needs a friend like Slim.
Once home, he whistled for the pack to join him in the annual Halloween joyride. The gang piled into my VW in a flash. Even Kiko moved briskly, which is unusual for our elder statesman these days. Time to cruise the neighborhood to promote more Halloween fun! The big day approached!
In one of my longer Provincetown walks this summer, I got as far as the hilltop apex of Bradford Street, where the tall, narrow Gothic revival cottages above are located. With their sharply peaked roof lines, the structures could well be the home of friendly witches in a children’s book. The neat, enclosing hedge and abundant plantings further enhance the compound’s charming storybook aspect. Built by a sea captain in 1850, and home to several artists over the years, the cottages are now owned by a local art and antiques dealer.
The view toward the bay from the upper windows of the buildings above must be spectacular. I took this photo from just across Bradford Street, at the edge of a precipitous drop.
Flamboyant orange tiger lilies stand out against the weathered shingles of another hilltop Bradford Street home.
Back on Commercial Street, near the heart of town, is the elegant wedding cake building above. At the time of its construction in 1860 as the Center Methodist Episcopal Church, it was purported to be the largest Methodist church in the United States. Its original, emphatically tall steeple was removed after it was damaged in the severe winter storm of 1898. Since then, the arched belfry alone has topped the building. Once the congregation left for a newer, more easily manageable building in 1958, the church became home, for about a decade, to the Chrysler Museum, and later, to the Provincetown Heritage Museum. Following an extensive renovation, completed in 2011, the building now serves as the town’s Public Library.
The building’s light-filled interior is well worth a look. It’s high-ceilinged upper floor still contains a sixty-six foot long, half-scale model of the Provincetown schooner, the Rose Dorothea, winner of the 1907 Lipton Cup Fishermen’s Race. The model, completed in 1988, by a group of volunteers led by Francis “Flyer” Santos, is a tribute to the long tradition of New England shipbuilding and to the intrepid fishermen of Provincetown.
The library, with its large windows, is a lovely place from which to survey the surrounding town. Above, we look across Center Street to the home built around 1870 as the parsonage of the Methodist Church. The current owner is the proprietor of Provincetown’s Shop Therapy, which bills itself as a “world famous alternative lifestyle emporium.” The wild spirit of the sculpture garden that surrounds the house is similar to that expressed in the brightly colored murals that adorn the facade of Shop Therapy. The Pilgrim Monument rises in the background.
This view above shows Commercial Street shops, the harbor, pier and breakwater.
I like to walk the town’s short lanes that connect Commercial and Bradford streets. They offer unique perspectives on enclosed gardens and quiet enclaves mere steps away from the tourist crowd.
Provincetown’s government center is Town Hall, built in 1886 and situated at the very midpoint of the town. Every registered, resident voter is a member of the town’s legislative body. Town Meetings, as well as concerts and special events, take place here in the capacious auditorium. The Victorian building underwent a massive renovation, completed in 2010, after portions of it were deemed structurally unsound. The current green and white color scheme mimics the original palette.
Following the sale of the Center Methodist Church, the congregation built their new home on Shank Painter Road, a bit removed from the town center. The spare Modernist building opened in 1960. The sanctuary, with steeply sloping redwood walls, resembles the upturned hull of a boat. Provincetown United Methodist Church is a vital hub of community life. In addition to Sunday worship, the congregation runs a Thrift Shop and Soup Kitchen. The church hosts a number of twelve-step groups and serves as a rehearsal space for some theater groups. Our family has been attending worship there once every summer for many years. It has become our church home away from home. We looked forward to being back in the company of the small, welcoming congregation, to an uplifting sermon by the Reverend Jim Cox and to a moving anthem by the delightful “Joyful Noise Choir.” When we arrived on our annual Sunday morning in August 2019, we were surprised, and somewhat alarmed, to see that Reverend Jim was not there. A guest minister presided. Toward the end of the service, she seemed to be stalling for time. Before long, Rev. Jim was proceeding slowly up the center aisle. Gravely ill, he’d come to say goodbye. He died just over a month later. We’re grateful that we could be among the flock that day, to thank him for being such a source of kindness, wisdom and good cheer, for walking the walk of faith and love of neighbor in all circumstances. Appropriately, his Celebration of Life included a New Orleans-style brass band “Second-Line Procession” from Town Hall to the Church.
The Delta surge of Covid prevented us from attending church this year in Provincetown. As of June, the pastor is Edgar Miranda. God willing, we’ll meet him next year.
This large Bradford Street residence, built in the 1870s, stands out for its dramatically peaked gable roof and Stick Style ornamentation. It was home to a succession of artists and merchants before opening its doors to paying guests. Currently operated as Stowaway Guesthouse, its pleasant rooms are brightly painted, and the spacious grounds are lushly landscaped. It’s one of Provincetown’s many inviting, privately run inns.
On every return walk to Truro, I pause again to look back toward Provincetown. The familiar elements are there: the white house, the bay, the curve of the town. When the distinctive features of the Provincetown skyline, such as the Pilgrim Monument, the towers of the Library, Town Hall and the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, are visible, it calls to mind a decorative miniature village in a model train display. On cloudy days, the buildings blur together into a vague impression, a palette knife rendering in tones of gray and white. Sometimes, as in the view from our cottage in Truro, dense fog obscures the town altogether, and the white house could be perched at the very edge of the world. At low tide, the home looks out to a vast, low basin of sand. At high tide, the waters of the bay seem to lap at the base of the porch. The view is never the same, yet always the same. I find this somehow comforting. I know it will be there waiting for me next year. And it reminds me that even in the most mundane of life’s daily routines, there lies the potential for endless variety, for boundless possibility.
I didn’t make it to Provincetown’s far West End this summer. I’ll save that part of the tour for next year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.