The shortest night

top-heading garlic

The morning after the summer solstice, which arrived just before 8:00 p.m. here, the garlic tops have each coiled another half-turn. Irises that were once blue dangle curled brown locks and raise flags of surrender, milky as a blind man’s eyes. It’s chilly. I grab my hooded sweatshirt off the doorknob and stand staring for a moment at my reflection in the bald brass.

cicada wings1

A 100-foot section of the mowed path leading from the garage into the woods is bejeweled with cicada wings, hundreds upon hundreds of them, covered with dew and glinting in the morning sun. What brought them there?

They had to have been brought: it’s not an area where either the emergence or the courtship of the 17-year cicadas have been particularly intense, or indeed noticeable. There are no overhanging branches from which birds might have discarded the wings as they ate — in fact, the wings peter out as soon as small trees begin to line the trail.

I suspect raccoons. What else could it be? I can picture them gathering there in the light of the just-past-full moon, squatting companionably as they pull the wings off their squirming victims and chew, chew, chew.

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  1. A creepy-wonderful mental image. And I like the garlic picture a lot too.


  2. They are well and truely done here up a holler in the Knobs of central KY, save for a few scattered individuals with a short expected lifespan. The only singer in the woods is bound to attract some attention. The squirrels and birds have gone back to their traditional foods, birdseed and my cherry tree, and I imagine there are some depressed dogs and coons around. I was a little bummed myself because I didn’t see any of the mud volcanoes like you had. All I had was perfectly circular holes all over the place. However, we had some rain late last week, and I’ve since noticed some beautiful mud cones made by the late bloomers. I’m gonna miss them, hope I am still here in 17 years. rb


  3. Here in Northern Virginia, we had our seventeen-year cicadas just a few years back. Does that make sense?


  4. cicada wings – you mean, like those empty bags of doritos left on the beach after the picnic


  5. beth – Thanks; glad you liked that photo.

    arby – According to my mother’s journal from 1991, they were done here by the second week of June last time. That just shows how a cold May can delay things, I guess. This was the first and only time we’ve ever seen those pots (I like your term “volcanoes”) too, though it’s possible they were present in very low numbers in 91 and 74 and we just didn’t notice them. It’s interesting that you found a few from those emerging later – makes me wonder if their manufacture isn’t related to the amount of time the cicadas spend near the surface.

    Peter – Yup. You simply have a different brood. Look it up online – I’m sure you can find a map for Brood X and the others that will tell you what schedule you’re on.

    Lee’s River – Exactly! :)


  6. Flags of surrender? Good one!

    The wing arrangement is so strange. Too bad you weren’t invited to that party.


  7. Well, I did semi-seriously consider gathering some cicadas for a stir-fry, but I don’t know – somehow I chickened out.


  8. A lot of people around here are quite annoyed by them, but I love their hum, and have enjoyed collecting and studying the delicate wings. Haven’t tried the stirfry yet though….


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