In A Tale of Two Cities, when Charles Dickens penned his famous quote, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times," while he was relating how opposing factions viewed the French Revolution, one might make a similar observation regarding the return of the cicadas.
Entomology is the scientific study of insects. "For entomophobes, this is the season of despair. For the entomophiles, this is the season of joy," said University of Maryland entomologist Michael Raupp, using his highfalutin terms for bug-haters and bug-lovers.
Since 1996, after existing underground for 17 years, billions of flying cicadas are due to sweep the East Coast starting sometime in the first week of June. And although it's too early to predict exactly where or when the brood will appear, "this spring's emergence should rate as the most closely watched bug-out in history," according to Science Editor Alan Boyle at NBC News.
But what is the significance of the 17-year life cycle? Some think it evolved as a defense mechanism where the time lag makes it difficult for predators to specialize in eating them. And when they do emerge, their overwhelming numbers make any losses insignificant - so the species can continue to propagate.
Another theory hinges on the number 17's status as a prime number. If the cicadas returned every ten or fifteen years, their emergence would coincide with predators whose life-cycles neatly divided into theirs. Perhaps the seventeen year cicadas made it this far because, due to their prime-number loving ways, no other animals were able to sync up with their reproductive cycle.
In any event, the evolution of the cicada is a cautionary tale for us humans. As much as we think we have the ability to transcend our mortal plight in life, in the end, man ends up where he started. While we don't live most of our lives in a vegetative state (save that rare breed that are known as couch potatoes), we do exhibit patterns of continually circling back, as exhibited by reunions, birthdays, anniversaries and even in life's grand scheme of things, i.e. the circle of life (dust to dust, etcetera, etcetera).
No where ibwaySteve Bakers this paradigm more poignantly described than in songwriter bwaySteve Baker's melodic ballad, "Going Nowhere (at the speed of light)." The song's theme underscores how man can travel the world over only to realize that life's journey always ends up "where you are." So the best we can do, like the cicada is experience each day as it comes. Whether it's for 17 years or decades longer - all we can do is just sit back and enjoy the ride!
We can learn a thing or two from those cicadas (beyond having them for dinner), don't you think?
UPDATE: NBC News - May 30, 2013: Thanks to the rapid rise of crowdsourcing and social media, this year's event is sure to become the most tweeted cicada emergence in history: Cicada Mania suggests using the hashtag #BroodII for the 2013 outbreak, and #Cicadas for general cicada issues. If you want to see the Twitterverse from the cicadas' point of view, just follow @Brood_II. There's a Cicada Mania Facebook page for entomophiles. And if you're an entomophobe, you'll find kindred spirits on the "I Hate Cicadas!!!!!!" Facebook page.