The Return of the Cicadas

Cicada by Yukie Chen from Pixabay

I guess this is kind of a nature and weather post about the coming summer of 2020. As the weather warms, the 17-year cicadas that have been named Brood IX are emerging. Reports are that they have already started appearing in parts of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

I’ve written about these summer insects before but they are so interesting to me. As their name suggests, they appear above ground once every 17 years. All those years of life sheltering at home like us this year except they were nymphs in the dirt, sucking sap from tree roots.

How they know that the warm weather of their 17th year – sort of like the high school graduations that won’t happen this year – is the time to surface? It’s a wonderful mystery.

Then they climb some vertical surface, such as a tree or fence, and begin to shed their immature exoskeletons. You might be more familiar with the large bug that emerges but you have no doubt seen those discarded sci-fi exoskeletons.

They have a few months to fly, mate, and make their songs. To them it must be a sweet song and, at first, I like hearing the sound as it reminds me of summers past. But it’s a repetitive sound and after a few weeks, it’s more of an annoying ambient noise.

The adult cicadas die by the end of the summer. Just one season in the sunlight, like a variation on a Ray Bradbury story.

This 2020 Brood IX that is debuting is estimated to be about 1.5 million insects.

I could check the soil temperature here in Paradelle and when it gets to 64° F the first ones should be heading up to our part of the world. In years past, that has been mid-May around here in the mid-Atlantic, but the month has been cool this year. I had to cover my tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and tender plants a few times this month because it went back done into the mid-30s. The cicadas have been waiting for 17 years, so they have no problem waiting a few more weeks.

Like mockingbirds, cicadas aren’t a threat to people. Atticus said that “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy… but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” A male chorus of cicadas looking for mates will sing their hearts out (it can reach up to 100 decibels which makes it about as loud as a car stereo blasting “Born to Be Wild” at full blast) but I don’t know that we would enjoy their summer song as much as a mockingbird’s song or Steppenwolf‘s summer classic.

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We Move Like the Sun


I have always had a sundial in my garden. It keeps you in touch with the movement of the Sun during the day and during the seasons.

My basic horizontal sundial shows a shadow from its style onto a surface marked with lines indicating the hours of the day. The style is the time-telling edge of the gnomon, the straight edge. As the sun moves across the sky, the shadow-edge aligns with hour-lines.

Sundials that directly measure the sun’s hour/angle must have that edge parallel to the axis of the Earth’s rotation to tell the correct time throughout the year. The style’s angle from the horizontal should equal the sundial’s geographical latitude, but in most inexpensive sundials the hour angles are off and cannot be adjusted. There are many other types of sundials.

Isaac Newton developed a convenient and inexpensive reflection sundial using a small mirror placed on the sill of a south-facing window. The mirror casts a single spot of light on the ceiling and, depending on the geographical latitude and time of year, the light-spot on the ceiling was drawn large enough to be accurate.

Most mass-produced sundials are not the most accurate timekeepers, but in mid-April time by the sun and time by my clocks agrees. Noon is noon in both places.

I adjust my sundial as the months move past me, but I suppose that is a bit of a cheat. This weekend the length of the day as measured by the midday sun is slightly less than 24 hours long. This discrepancy between my watch and the Sun accumulates until mid-May when noon on my sundial will be a few minutes earlier than the clock. After that the sundial middays will become slightly more than 24 hours long and by mid-June, they will match up again.

Cycles. Very much a part of our lives, whether we pass attention to them or not.


Sundial Bridge, Redding Ca. The white pylon is 218 feet tall and the Sundial Bridge free spans 500 feet across the river. The Sundial is functional and the northern shoreline has markings with the summer solstice and time of day.


Riding the Timewave Into October 2010

Novelty theory attempts to calculate the ebb and flow of novelty in the universe as an inherent quality of time. It is an idea conceived of and discussed at length by Terence McKenna from the early 1970s until his death in the year 2000.

According to McKenna, when “novelty” is graphed over time, a fractal waveform known as timewave zero or simply the timewave results. The graph shows at what times, but never at what locations, novelty is increasing or decreasing.

According to the timewave graph, great periods of novelty occurred about 4 billion years ago when Earth was formed, 65 million years ago when dinosaurs were extinct and mammals expanded, about 10,000 years ago after the end of the ice age, around late 18th century when social and scientific revolutions progressed  and during the 1960s.

Interestingly, he also saw greater novelty coming around the time of 9/11/2001 and in November 2008 (election), this fall in October 2010 and novelty progressing towards the infinity on 21st December 2012.

I haven’t found a complete analysis of McKenna’s wave – for example, what occurred in May 1996 that he saw such a precipitous drop in novelty?

Resyncing the Earth

Yesterday, I wrote about my unhappiness with people who have the most superficial information about topics – from huge ones like climate change, to fringe ones like the Mayan calendar – and yet feel fully qualified to make broad pronouncements about these subjects.

It seems to me that too many people are not paying attention to the world around them. They are so out of tune with the world – especially the natural world – that they wouldn’t notice a shift of consciousness if it knocked over their coffee cup.

Part of the operating manual for this planet is certainly encoded in the natural world.  And the message that seems to be contained there now is an error message.

The natural calendar and cycles, such as when a certain flowers first bloom “could traditionally signal when to find certain fish running the rivers, when to hunt for mushrooms, or when to plant crops” are out of sync.

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” sings Joni Mitchell in “Big Yellow Taxi.”   That’s so often true in nature when we see a tear in the complex web.

Global average temperatures have been up 0.5 degrees Celsius since the 1970s. Spring’s warming is coming earlier and organisms, plants and animals are responding.

So, I was immediately attracted to an article titled Earth Out of Sync: Rising Temperatures Throw Off Seasonal Timing by Janet Larsen of Earth Policy Institute.

The timing of seasonal biological events (phenology) is tracked by both scientists and citizens. I keep garden journals. People post their own local observations to bigger databases like Project Budburst.

In Japan, the famous cherry tree blossoms have been recorded for 600 years. In those records, there was no clear trend of change until the early 20th century, when the blooms started to come earlier. That trend made a more dramatic movement earlier into the season around 1950. What is happening?

If our Earth cycles are out of sync, is there a way to “resync” them? Some people say that the shifts are as much a part of the cycle as anything else. Others say that people have caused the shift and need to correct it.

Larsen’s article notes lots of examples of things out of sync. I mentioned yesterday that some people will point to global warming as a good thing. Earlier springs and later autumns mean longer growing seasons.  Since apple trees in the northeastern United States have started flowering 8 days between 1965 and 2001, we should have more apples. Right? Wrong.  Apple trees require chilling time before they flower, so warmer winters are a likely factor for the decreasing harvests.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, take note that we are having lengthened pollen seasons too. Insects that once were active for just two weeks a year now can be found flying for up to six months. Some of those insects can wipe out a forest, or increase the incidence of tick-borne encephalitis and other diseases spread by insects that do well in the warmer conditions.

I like that we can use the careful records of Henry David Thoreau to help us gauge how spring has changed in Concord, Massachusetts  since the mid-1800s. I’m not so pleased that by we find by comparing his notes on plants with modern records,  that researchers found springtime blooming advanced by an average of one week over the past 150 years.

We always discover in a bad economy that there are some investors who will benefit from bad times, like those who can buy stocks at rock bottom prices and wait out the recession.  We can’t be sure what species will be the winners and losers in the experiment we are running on Planet Earth, but most indicators point to losers being in the majority.


I’m back in Paradelle after a week away during which I tried to stay unplugged. That literally meant trying to stay offline and away from the computer which is a big part of my work and other life.

The weather helped me by sending a nor’easter to Paradelle that knocked out my power and Internet connection for the first three days. I admit that I felt some withdrawal those three days. Of course, part of that came from also not being able to read at night, watch TV, cook meals and all the rest of what I expect to be there every day.

But getting unplugged also meant, for me, some non-electrical disconnects – being away from work, from home and from the cycle of the week.

I got to do more writing with pen and paper instead of the keyboard. I finished reading two books. I got away for a few days and set my feet in the ocean for the first time in 2010.

I got to thinking and writing in my journal about the cycles that I seem to be caught in lately.  One such thought sent me back to a book that I have read a few times and that is easy to reread in parts.  That book is Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams.

That book contains many imagined dreams of Einstein concerning time. In some dreams, he describes time as a river. In one dream, some people get stuck and are redirected to the past. These people from the future are called “wretched” and are left alone and pitied. They are unstuck from time but they are time exiles. I would have imagined those people would become celebrities.

Would you find it appealing to jump from the cycle of time and enter the river at some other point in time?

Today we start the spring seasonal cycle. Time didn’t change today. We changed out clocks last week here to begin saving daylight – as if that was possible.

But the change to spring is a much more powerful cycle than the manmade turning of clock hands. The seasonal changes all around us will change how we act, feel, eat, work an d play.

If you look at any list of cycles, you will find both natural ones and manmade ones. Time and calendar cycles, planetary cycles, astronomical cycles, climate and weather cycles, geological cycles, organic cycles, agricultural, biological and medical cycles. Our brain waves have cycles when we are awake or asleep.

I wrote here a few months ago about circadian rhythms. That is the roughly 24-hour cycle in the biochemical, physiological or behavioral processes of living entities – which includes us and plants, animals, fungi and even cyanobacteria.  “Circadian” comes from the Latin circa, “around”, and diem or dies, “day”, meaning literally “approximately one day”. The formal study of biological temporal rhythms such as daily, tidal, weekly, seasonal, and annual rhythms, is called chronobiology.

Although circadian rhythms are within us (endogenous), they are adjusted (entrained) to the environment by external cues called zeitgebers. What is the primary one? Daylight. Hello, Spring…

Zeitgeber (from German for time giver, synchronizer) is any external cue that synchronizes an organism’s internal time-keeping system (our “clock”) to the earth’s 24-hour light/dark cycle.

If you want to jump out of the cycle, maybe this is the way.

The strongest zeitgeber, for both plants and animals, is light. But there are other ones. Temperature, social interactions, pharmacological manipulation and eating/drinking patterns.

Spring changes the light, but it also changes the temperature. Is it at all strange that we escape winter to warmer climates? Do you change your social interactions in spring and summer? Get out more? See more people?

I’ll skip most of the discussion of drugs as zeitgeber, but what about if you try taking over-the-counter melatonin to readjust your sleep cycle? Do you change your eating and drinking habits to try to break the cycle?

I wonder how many cycles that are around us unconsciously are affecting us. Harmonic cycles are at the root of many musical genres, such as the twelve-bar blues. Economic and business cycles.

Having I been trying to adjust my internal clock unconsciously?

How many cycles do I need to try to shift in order to feel like I have broken free?

If only it was as simple as one of my childhood dreams:  I am in Yankee Stadium and  I have hit a single, a double, a triple, and a home run in that order. I have hit for a natural cycle. All is right in my world.