It's not exactly every 17 years!

Five Million Cicadas


It’s been two weeks since I spotted that lone cicada on my terrace and it looks like the coast is clear here in Park Glen (it’s also true that I didn’t go out for two weeks. But today I did, encouraged by the fact that I live in a garden community across from a creek and I haven’t heard a chorus or even single mating calls since the sighting). However, cicada choruses have been reported in several parts of the DC metro area including Arlington. From the information I’ve been able to gather, choruses are currently being heard near Shirlington (around Fairlington and Douglas Park), the Pentagon, and East Falls Church in Arlington. Other parts of the metro area where they’re chorusing are College Park, Takoma Park, Chevy Chase and Bethesda in MD, and Vienna, Merrifield, Falls Church, Annandale, Alexandria and Springfield in VA (I’m not sure where exactly within these communities, though. This is just information that I’ve been gathering from user-posted YouTube videos, comments on the Cicadamania Brood X stragglers thread and a couple of articles on The Washington Post’s website).

Another part of the country where they’re apparently out and about in full force four years early is Cincinnati, OH. Our reader Diane Nahallage has quite a few in her backyard and even wrote a song about them! Even though Diane is not exactly a cicadaphobe now, she used to be afraid of cicadas when she was a kid growing up in Cincinnati so she has a lot of empathy for us. Her song is dedicated “to all the people who do not love the cicadas.” Thank you, Diane, for sharing your song with us and providing catharsis and entertainment to all cicadaphobes!

Without further ado, here’s the song for you all to listen to as well as a brief interview with Diane. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Are you a professional singer/songwriter? How long have you been writing songs and performing?
I am an amateur songwriter. I wrote a few songs for my children when they were younger. I have always enjoyed taking well-known songs and giving them new lyrics for whatever purpose was needed at the time. I am a former elementary teacher and often created short songs to use in the classroom. This is my first original song to be made public on social media. I’ve been writing songs sporadically for about forty years. I started playing the guitar about six months ago.

How’s your relationship with cicadas? Would you say you’re terrified, disgusted, both, or just moderately annoyed by them?
When I was a child growing up in Cincinnati, I was afraid of them. Now I enjoy hearing them in the trees. It’s the first thing I hear when I wake up, and it makes me happy. This morning, as if to get revenge for my song (which is a negative song from a cicada’s point of view), a red-eyed friend landed on my car, then flew into my hair, and then onto my shirt! I brushed it away without screaming or getting the heebie-jeebies, so I guess cicadas and I have reached an understanding.

How did you come up with the idea for “Five Million Cicadas”? Did you write it just for fun or was it a cathartic experience for you?
I heard a news story last week that the early Brood X cicadas would be emerging, and I knew many people in town would be dismayed, including many of my friends. When I started thinking about cicadas, I realized I had a lot of funny memories about them, so I put some of those memories into the song.

I can remember as a child watching as my mother and my aunts screamed and waved their arms wildly about when cicadas landed in their hair at a family barbecue. And I also remember feeling uneasy around the cicada shells, as if they might suddenly come to life and chase after me.

I remember in the last big cicada year (2004) in Cincinnati my family and another family took our kids to a playground near some woods. We had to clean the exoskeletons off the playground equipment and dodge cicadas the entire time. Understandably the kids did not want to play for very long! As we were about to pull out of the parking lot, I heard a telltale chirp. I knew there was a cicada in the van, but I couldn’t say anything as I didn’t want to scare the children. I announced that I had left something at the playground. When one of the other adults opened the van door to go retrieve the “forgotten” item, the cicada flew out before the children realized we had an uninvited visitor. That was a lucky break!

Also in 2004 the local news featured cicada beer, a bakery offering sheet cakes with a huge cicada outlined in icing, cicada pizza, and a story about the ER having to pump out the stomachs of a few people who learned the hard way they were allergic to cicadas!

The more the cicada memories came to me, the more I thought a funny song about them might help people laugh and lighten up about our periodical visitors. I exaggerated the number to five million because it just sounded better and added extra humor.

In your video, we can hear a cicada chorus in the background. Are those the early Brood X cicadas that have emerged so far in some parts of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, DC, Pennsylvania and New Jersey? If so, you must have quite a lot in your backyard — they’re loud! Were you worried they would land on you or your guitar while you were filming?
I assume the cicadas singing in all the trees are part of early Brood X. Yes, they are quite loud. With all the windows shut and the air conditioner running, I can still hear them. I was actually hoping one of them would have landed on me while I was recording the song. That would have just been perfect!

How has the song been received so far?
I have performed it live at a few music jams. Because I know all the words, I could look at the audience members’ faces as I sang. I saw plenty of smiles, knowing glances, and I heard laughter at some of the lines. Performing something that makes people happy is very rewarding. I’ve sent out an email to my friends, giving them the youtube link, and all the responses have been positive. So I am very grateful and encouraged.

Will you write more cicada songs when different broods emerge in the next few years? How about “Five Billion Cicadas” in four years?
I already have some lyrics in mind for the next cicada song which will indeed be published four years from now… you read my mind! Right now I am paying attention to other people’s reactions to and stories about cicadas, and making some songwriting notes. If you know me personally and have told me a cicada story, you just might find yourself in one of the verses of my next song!

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