Before I took this photo I used to think that all cicadas are brown and ugly looking. Cicada watching is popular in East Asia. In Japan it seems that almost no child grows up without some familiarity with them. Each month of spring or summer has a particular cicada’s sound associated with it. So much so that a manga only has to put that sound in a panel to tell you the time of year in which the story takes place. Growing up in India, my friends and I never had much to do with cicadas. When I heard them in our hotel in Naukuchiatal, I only registered their sound as a peaceful background noise. I saw a large yellowish and black insect flying above the canopy of trees around us a couple of times, and wondered whether it could be Golden Birdwing butterfly, before dismissing the thought because the insect was not large enough. On our last morning I saw several over a nearby tree, pointed my camera at them, and captured the photo above. What a surprise! It was a cicada, the brightest that I’ve ever seen. A Sulphogaeana sulphurea. It has been reported from much higher elevations in Uttarakhand. This may be the first report of it at these lower elevations!
Work brought me to Long Island, where towns spread out along parkways and roads. Hotels are set back from the roads, so that the view out of the front-facing rooms are of a parking lot and a road. The view out of a back-facing room is marginally better: a parking lot and a little patch of woods separate you from another road. The only views in Long Island are of the sea and beaches. Trying to get a room with that kind of view would put me quite far from work. Jet-lag changes your priorities. I prefer to wake a little late, and take the shortest time to get in.
There are other things that one gets to see here. Ducks flying overhead, their honking a joy to hear. I spotted a trio of cormorants in the evening, returning from a day out fishing. I spotted a female Northern Cardinal yesterday, mistaking it for a sparrow, until I saw the red around its head and shoulder. It is summer now, and walking at night you can hear cicadas bowing and scraping. The view out of the window is only a small part of living on the Island.
閑かさや Shizukasa ya In this stillness 岩にしみ入る iwa ni shimi iru stinging the stone 蝉の声 semi no koe [is] the cicada’s trill
From “The Narrow Road to Oku” by Basho
Summer arrived in the last two days before I left Japan. How does one decide? For the record its not by the sun or the stars, nor by the heat and humidity, but by the cry of the cicadas.
Japan has a thing about these large and unprepossessing insect, named semi in Japanese, which are supposed to call only in summer. The monotonous ji-ji-ji sound which I heard while walking to lunch was probably the large brown cicada which the Japanese call the Aburazemi. If it makes you feel any better, the Latin binomial is Graptosaltria nigrofuscata. There weren’t too many of them, and it was too early in the season for kids to be out trying to catch them. But a few cicada do a summer make.