Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Cicadas' song an end to summer

What began as a tentative scraping in July is now a full-fledged chorus. Entomologists call it the cicadas' song, but it is more noise than music.

As the summer wanes, the high-pitched whirring reaches a crescendo, followed by a tragic finale. The male cicada dies after mating, and when the female has finished laying her eggs, she dies also.

What we are hearing now are not the so-called 17-year locusts. A fact sheet from the Penn State Entomology Department identifies them as "dog day cicadas," which appear every year from mid-July through mid-September. They are "large, blackish insects, usually with greenish wing veins."

I have never seen one, but their sound has always signaled, along with other seasonal markers, the end of summer and the start of a new school year.

Stores have been rolling out their back-to-school displays since July. Target's main aisle is paved with fridges, futons and computer desks. The bulletin board at the YMCA posts a daily countdown of the number of days left before school starts. A sandwich board in front of The Hidden Salon advertises back-to-school haircuts. And the August lilies are blooming.

The rhythms of my life have nearly always been dictated by school calendars, first my own school years, then my children's, and then years of teaching.

The first September of retirement, I had to fight the feeling that I should be back in my classroom. In a recurring dream, I am trying to get to school against insurmountable obstacles. Old habits, like old songs, cannot easily be erased.

Besides the song of the cicadas, there's another song I can't get out of my head. At the recent arts and crafts fair, I wandered over to the bandstand to listen to the State College Senior Band playing great old tunes like "Blue Velvet" and "Tuxedo Junction." When band leader Joe Perez announced "Harbor Lights," and Ted Fuller took the mike, I was back at Hecla Park, sometime in the mid-50s, listening to Sammy Kaye's band.

This plaintive song about a couple's sad farewell reminds me that the dance hall is used for storage space now, and the amusement park which surrounded it is abandoned. But the memories, and the song, remain.

Love and loss take many forms, from the life cycle of the cicada to the break-up of a romance, but with sadness comes hope. The new school year will be the best yet. The cicadas will emerge another year for another grand performance. And big bands are coming back.