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Sounds of New Orleans: Chanting Cicadas

You know in the summertime when it gets hot, one of the many sounds of New Orleans are the cicadas that produce this almost deafening racket.

Sounds of New Orleans: Our Little Chanting Cicadas

I remember growing up when summer was about to end and school was around the corner, toward evening the cicadas would change their cadence from steady loud clicking to this other peculiar sound.

It was like a spring, a loud, slow boing boing boing echoing through the trees. There was something melancholy about it although at that age I didn’t really know what the word melancholy meant and really didn’t understand the feelings I was having.

There was something of a longing and something of a sadness that all the joys of the season were ending and we were going back to school. I hated school, it was misery for me because I didn’t have a lot of friends and felt like a misfit.

I was kind of a nerd, kind of, well no I WAS a nerd and that was in the days before we used such terms. Funny how that word seems to fit. I mean if you say it to someone who’s never heard it before it’s just almost self-explanatory. Nerd.

Anyway, when I heard that boing boing boing sound I always wondered what the heck it was. What was making that sound? Is it a bird or some other kind of animal. I would look up into the trees and see nothing. I never thought to ask anyone what it was. It was just there, as a given, in late summer, when the dreaded school was coming round the bend.

new orleans sounds cicada

New Orleans sounds: our ubiquitous chanting cicadas

It was really only a few years when I saw my first cicada, not the cicada itself but the skin of it hanging with it’s claws onto a fence post. That year I found like 5 of those little husks and I put them on the table on the porch so I could picked them up and marvel at them. They are neat little creatures.

A few years ago I traveled with my nephew to France and we stayed a night in Cassis, this place on the coast just a little ways from Marseilles. A beautiful little town, I thought I’d like to own an apartment there when I made my fortune.

Along the avenue lined with quaint modern apartments there was also a line of not very tall trees, and in each one you could hear the cadence of the cicadas, in the middle of the day, crick crick cricking away.

That night we took a walk out to the water and the trunks of the trees were covered with the things. I picked one off and held it in my hand and felt it buzzing, a strange sensation. In New Orleans you hear them a lot but don’t really see them climbing tree trunks, but the loud sound of them buzzing in tandem let’s you know they are there.

Seems like the little guys have been especially loud this year, or maybe I’m just more aware of them than before. The other night I actually saw and heard one buzzing through the air just a few feet above my head. Don’t know if I’d ever seen that before. Kinda cool.

A few mornings ago I found one on the sidewalk whole and complete not just the shell. I picked it up and he didn’t move. Didn’t know if he was dead or what but he still felt warm. Do insects feel warm? Or maybe it was just from the heat of the sidewalk.

As I looked at him I thought, well, other places in the world fry ’em up and eat ’em. Maybe I could just take him inside and fry him up in a pan, see what he tastes like. Then I thought well, he’s dead and here in Louisiana we don’t cook and eat dead crawfish, maybe it’s the same with cicadas.

When I grew up and didn’t have to go to school any more it took years for me to get over the melancholy that I felt when summer was ending and school was revving up. The boing boing boing of the cicadas would actually intensify the sadness.

I love the summer and love the sound of the cicadas, and now when they start the boing boing boing there’s no more melancholy. It just means to me we are on the verge of getting cooler weather and maybe a few hurricanes are in the offing. In some way I feel like these cute little bugs are my buddies that are part of the palate of the sounds of New Orleans.

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  • Janis M. Pacileo

    So this is what I’ve been hearing outside ….



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