It is not unusual at this time of year, as Summer slowly starts to wend its way into Autumn, to start finding dead cicadas on the ground. Cicadas produce the sound of the summer – a modulating, thrumming buzz like the sound of hundreds of tiny maracas or drum kits. Finding their corpses, therefore, is a signal that summer is nearing its end.
What is unusual, however, is to find a zombie cicada. If anyone was going to find a zombie cicada, however, it was going to be me.
I was collecting in the washing from the line when I spotted a cicada hobbling across the patio. Guessing it was injured, I picked it up. I studied the cicada in my hand and noted that he was missing a leg. I assumed a bird must have tried to eat him. What a shame, I thought, to be missing a leg. My youngest son is also obsessed with cicadas and collects their shed skins so I knew he would be interested in seeing a cicada and especially one who, like our older cat, was missing a leg. But incredibly it was only once my kids were handling the cicada that I realised he was missing more than a leg. He was, in fact, missing his entire abdomen. This cicada was managing to hobble around and climb without having a body. It was the Undead!
As zombie fans, we were all excited to have found a zombie cicada. My kids wanted to keep him as a pet. They reasoned and argued that he stood no chance of surviving without our assistance. I pointed out that he stood no chance on surviving in a house with two cats either. They named him Worf because he liked to cling-on to them. Naming the cicada did their case no good. I refused to adopt the Undead cicada. We left him to go his merry way.
The next day, we found an actually fully dead cicada. My youngest son wanted to adopt that one too. He wanted to go full Frankenstein and see if we could revive it. Things were easier when he just collected their sloughed off skins.
We moved to Pennsylvania from a relatively remote area on the West coast of Scotland. We were surrounded by nature. We could stroll the banks of a loch, wander a forest trail, scale a hill or potter along the seashore. A walk of a few minutes from home could have the kids playing in woodland and a short drive could have us lost in the landscape. It was one of the things I loved best about living where we used to: all that access to nature, the fresh air, the space.
We are lucky that where we have ended up is pretty green. We have swapped the red squirrels of “home” for grey squirrels who play in our garden – much to the delight of my 4 year old – and instead of rounding a corner of a single track road to find a large deer leering at me we now have a herd of deer who seem to hang out opposite Toys R Us. We have also seen some lovely birds visited our garden, including a red-bellied woodpecker. Nevertheless, we were missing our nature walks so we used the Thanksgiving weekend as an opportunity to explore a nearby state park.
No sooner had we arrived than we saw some a couple of turkey vultures circling above us, using the thermals to drift higher and higher. Some bird watchers thought one of them might be a bald eagle but I’m not going to claim I saw a bald eagle here until identification is certain. We did, however, see a whole load of blue jays hopping from branch to branch as we walked along one pathway. It was a mild and bright day so the sunlight was flashing off their sky blue feathers.
We found a playground in the middle of the walk so the boys could play.
The little Picts like nature when it is red in tooth and clue. It’s not just a “circle of life” thing with them; they are actually quite fond of the macabre. I will hold my hands up and admit this is my responsibility as a parent. I got them hooked on watching animal autopsy documentaries and have encouraged them to study any dead animals we have encountered on our treks. They still speak fondly of the time when we stumbled across an entire red deer skeleton, picked clean and bleached by the sun. It’s science. So the boys were all very excited when we came upon the rib cage, vertebrae and one leg of a deer. It still had hide on one leg while the rib cage was entirely exposed. My 6 year old wanted to take it home with us. Eh… No. I may have encouraged this fascination in my kids but I do draw the line somewhere.
We only wandered in a small proportion of the park land so we will definitely return there to explore some more and indeed we will visit more state parks as we venture out on weekends and holidays.