Recently my treasured wristwatch disappeared. It belonged to my father who passed to eternal life in 1999. I had claimed this watch as my own and wore it frequently. My thorough searches around the house proved fruitless. The clasp had failed, I reasoned, perhaps as I was mowing grass or visiting local stores. A week later my wife approached me and asked, “Guess what I found?” She had located the watch in a pair of shorts I had not checked!
Over the last two weeks many object lessons concerning the watch occurred to me. For example, the timepiece was out of sight but keeping perfect time in an unknown place. Its time keeping ability was undiminished. The watch batteries could have functioned perfectly for several years based on its inner mechanisms. It had been programmed to function silently and with precision waiting for the time when it would “make its reappearance.”
Several internet stories lately provided a punch line for this object lesson from the animal world. The world of insects provides us with a spectacular example of inherent time keeping ability. We speak of the amazing saga of the periodical cicada. Most people have heard of the 17-year cicada but the story of the underground timekeeper is retold to renewed enthrallment, especially whenever they make their infrequent appearance. This insect has a life cycle of exactly 17 years. It emerges from its underground haunts on cue to supply many of our country’s residents with fascination, and in some cases entomophobic dread. Uncounted millions of insects emerge to serenade residents with a cacophonous, ear-splitting symphony after rehearsing for their concert beneath the surface undetected for 17 years.
Before we highlight some of the more remarkable details of this insect in future posts, I recall some personal experiences with these creatures going back 51 years. The progression of events places the periodical cicada saga in sharp personal perspective. Memories of each “Brood II” emergence connect strongly with significant events in my life’s chronology. There are twelve broods of periodical cicadas in the eastern half of the
. Their 17-year cycles overlap with each other chronologically and geographically. Brood II is one of the three most significant emergences and is highlighted in newspaper accounts whenever it occurs. As we write, Brood II is breaking forth from their subterranean lairs in US Northern New Jersey where I spent my entire teaching career.
In 1962 I was a recent hire on an early secondary school science staff. Rumors had circulated that the 17-year cicadas were emerging. On my assignment to noon-time recreation supervision, I recall the din of cicada songs originating about a quarter mile away and called it to the attention of students. That same spring I used the church bus to gather a large group of 9-11 year old boys for a church class picnic. Having been apprised that the cicadas were singing from a pocket of woods a mile away, at the conclusion of the class softball game I loaded the boys into the bus for a journey to the location of the insect concert. We all had “front row seats.”
In 1979 our son was three years old. Most little boys are fascinated with bugs, but not large, bug-eyed, winged creatures crawling up their clothing while producing intermittent buzzing noises. That adventure in the county park held high fascination for his parents, but not for our son Brad.
In 1996 20-year old Brad returned home to
from an out-of-state college for summer break. I had warned him that he was in line for a memory throwback. We journeyed over to the same park we had visited in 1979. This time we enjoyed the cicada symphony, even catching some specimens and letting them crawl on our arms and our car’s dashboard. My science classes enjoyed a brief video clip of their teacher’s cicada throwback visit to New Jersey . Lewis Morris County Park
In 2013 the local newspapers in
are filled with feature articles of this spring’s cicada onslaught. I will miss my fourth consecutive first hand experience of this particular display of billions of God’s unique insects. Only three species of 17-year cicadas exist. There are, however, over 2500 cicada species worldwide. In the creativity of our Maker, He saw fit to endow only a few species with this talent for timekeeping. In humor, I wonder if the 17-year cicadas provide object lessons for wristwatches—lost and out of sight, then found and still keeping perfect time. New Jersey