Sounds of Cicadas

Many memories are triggered by milestone anniversaries—things that happened five or ten or twenty-five years ago. But this memory of mine returned because of a seventeen-year anniversary. The seventeen-year cicadas are back this summer. It’s been so rainy that I haven’t been outside to hear them much, but the news reports bring to mind memories of a long-ago summer nonetheless.

I had never encountered cicadas until I moved to Missouri. Like fireflies, cicadas were foreign to the desert of Eastern Washington. During my first summer in Missouri, I asked my husband, “What is that noise?” He explained it was bugs. I don’t fear insects the way I do spiders, but it still dismayed me that my summertime pleasure could be disrupted by an ear-piercing drone that made conversation difficult.

Seventeen years ago—in June 1998—our family was preparing to hike in the Alps. “We need to take a practice hike,” my husband said. “To break in your boots and be sure you’ll make it.” He didn’t have much confidence in my fitness, which was probably wise.

So he, our daughter, and I set aside a Saturday that month to take a hike near Lake Perry in Kansas. Kansas, as most people know, is flat. But it was the best we could do to prepare for our mountain hike. Our son was also coming on this trip, but he had other plans that Saturday. “He’s on his own,” my husband said. Our son had taken plenty of Boy Scout hikes, so at least he had more experience than I did.

Me, after the first day of hiking in Switzerland

Me, after the first day of hiking in Switzerland

We put on our boots and set out on the trail, but were deafened by the sound of cicadas. That year, not only were the seventeen-year cicadas out, but a bumper crop of the thirteen-year variety also. We couldn’t talk, and we crunched the insect carcasses under our new boots as we walked.

I survived the practice hike (there was never any doubt about my husband or daughter), and a couple of weeks later our family set out for Switzerland. I’ve written before about that trip.

Now, seventeen years later, I reflect on how much our family has changed. Our son has finished high-school and college. Since college, he has lived and worked in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York, then cycled through all three cities again (he just moved back to New York).

Our daughter went through high school, college, and law school, taking up crew along the way. She has been a lawyer in Washington State for five years now, and owns a house and a dog.

My husband and I have both retired. We are forging this new phase in our lives, filling our days with both joys and sorrows as we age.

But when I hear the cicadas, I return to that summer of 1998, when our children were still living at home—no longer dependent, but not yet independent either. The house was full, our lives were hectic, and the four of us seldom all headed in the same direction.

That week in Switzerland was an opportunity to build memories together. I treasure my memories of that week, and I hope the rest of the family does also. The noise of the cicadas this summer triggers my memories. And the memories fill the silence of our empty nest.

What sounds trigger memories for you?

Posted in Family, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Great last line, Theresa!

    I’ve yet to hear any cicadas this summer although I have seen photos of yards full of them. Perhaps we live in the wrong neighborhood…..
    They always bring sounds of summer heat to me. Summer and sleeping outside on mats because the old farmhouse was too hot upstairs.

Leave a Reply