News item: Starting sometime this month or next, more than a billion cicadas will emerge, after 17 years underground, in a dozen U.S. states up and down the eastern seaboard. This group of cicadas, known as Brood X, is among the largest populations of all 17-year periodical cicadas.
The sun rose high in Collegetown on a balmy April-in-Ithaca day. Undergraduates loitered outside the new Collegetown Bagels while a miracle of nature unfolded under a patch of grass near the College Avenue Bridge. The soil having warmed to precisely 64 degrees Fahrenheit was the signal for a Brood X periodical cicada named Cecily to begin burrowing up to the surface. She came out with a pop, squinting in the first sunshine she’d seen in 17 years. The sudden emergence of an insect from the soil attracted the notice of a passing little black ant named Anthony, who stopped to observe. They stared at each other for a moment, and then Cecily began to look around.
“Holy freakin’ frass,” she said. “What happened to this place? It looks like Pyongyang, without the charm.”
“Hey, you’re one of those 17-year bugs!” said Anthony. “I saw something about you guys on Facebook.”
Cecily was extending her wings to dry them. “Face what?”
“Never mind,” said Anthony. “I guess there’s been a lot of construction around here is all. Is this where your folks are from?”
“My great-grandmother almost got squashed in an anti-war demonstration about a block from here in 1970.”
“Wow! I have to say, you guys are impressive. 99.9% of your life sucking tree sap underground, and you come up for a couple weeks at the end to pass the torch? That is commitment.”
“Meh, statistically that’s true, I guess,” Cecily mused. “But aren’t ants the ones with the work ethic? Like that ant-grasshopper story?”
“That’s kind of a myth, actually,” said Anthony. “You see a lot of us walking around ‘looking for food,’ but you ever notice? We never seem to be carrying anything. There’s a lot of down time.”
“Well, bring me up to speed,” said Cecily, sitting down next to Anthony. “What’s in the news?”
“Well, Prince Philip died last week.”
“I already thought he was dead and I haven’t checked my news feed for 17 years.”
Anthony thought for a moment. “Governor Cuomo signed a bill making marijuana legal in New York, but the QAnon wackos already think it’s a plot by Bill Gates to implant microchips in our bodies.”
Cecily blinked. “I have no idea what that even means. And isn’t Mario Cuomo like 90 years old? Can you just sort of sum up what’s been going on since 2004? I don’t have a ton of time.”
Anthony reached to place a reassuring foreleg on Cecily’s thorax, but then thought better of it. He inhaled deeply. “Well, Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs, an airliner disappeared without a trace, the climate is crumbling like cheese, there was something called the ice bucket challenge, The economy cratered in 2008 but we printed a lot of money so it was OK, Great Britain left the European Union, there’s the MeToo movement and it turns out that 88% of powerful men are jerks, the idea that Black lives might matter makes some people angry enough to burn BLM flags on the Commons, Tom Hanks has a son who is a complete douche, data breaches occur too frequently to keep track of, Big Pharma got the country hooked on opioids, a startling number of people are devoting valuable brain space to following a family of nitwits called the Kardashians, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, and some of his cult members mounted a half-assed coup attempt about three months ago, there’s a duly-elected member of the House of Representatives worried about Jewish space lasers, Apple is now worth a trillion dollars...oh, yeah, and we’re just starting to come out of the worst pandemic in 100 years, but we’re printing even more money so everything will be fine.”
A long minute passed during which neither one said anything. Then Cecily slowly got up and crept back to her hole. “Ant, I’ve got room down here if you want to come. Tree sap’s better than it sounds. If not, I’ll look you up in 2038.”
And she was gone as suddenly as she appeared...