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Cicadas give dog purpose

May 20, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

You will not be reading about cicadas in this space, even though they have become prime grist for every other columnist in America. So spare me your cicada lore. I don't want to hear about how funny you thought it was that your cat was playing with one in the yard. I don't want to hear how hilarious it is to watch your dog go on a cicada bender, spending his days alternately eating the bugs and throwing them up.

I don't want to hear from you freaks talking about how good they taste cooked in butter with white wine and shallots and tossed with shiitake mushrooms. (Have you ever noticed the "recipes" for undesirables such as insects, slimy plants and hog viscera always call for one part undesirable and a million parts everything else? "Slugs are delicious! Just saut a filet mignon, six strips of bacon, a heavy cream sauce and one half of one slug. It's great!")

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No, I don't care if you have found the cicadas in your purse, your glovebox or your underpants.

I don't care if they got in the closet and frightened your wife, I don't care if your kids are bashing them with the anti-cicada weapon of choice, the tennis racket.

The cicadas came out of the ground in mid-May, but the hype came out of the ground in March. I haven't seen one yet, and I am already sick of them. Since April, it's been all cicadas all the time. I swear, these insects have better PR operatives than Oprah.

We've been pounded with so much information overkill I feel as if these cicadas are my brothers. I know everything about them there is to know, from their eating habits to the size of their ears.

Mostly it's thanks to these loon college professors and entomologists who have been 30 feet up in a tree since the end of March, making copious notes every time a cicada sheds its skin or picks its proboscis. To them, this is amazing and wonderful. A Christmas that comes once every other decade.

To hear them tell it, you wouldn't think they were bugs, but rather millions and millions of Nicole Kidmans that were crawling up out of the ground. They beg us not to kill them - like there can be any redeeming social value or glamor to a creature that shrieks at the top of its lungs all day, crunches underfoot and primarily ends its life cycle in a cold pool of pet sick.

Supposedly they are already out, although their appearance has been spotty. Some people probably won't get hit too hard, they say - the cicadas can only survive in "soil that hasn't been disturbed for 17 years," like old subdivisions or the path to a Hagerstown weight-loss clinic.

Or the jobsite at the Broadfording Road bridge. A four-month project going on two years? What's up with that? The commissioners have a surplus of "Road Closed" signs they needed to use up? Probably they used up all their road repair money for the airport, not that I'm trying to start anything.

Perhaps the "undisturbed soil" paradigm is why I haven't seen one - ever since we moved in to our home, the dog named Jake Biscuit has made a research project out of digging up every square foot of our yard. (He prefers newly seeded grass, but will make do on "old growth.") In fact, he's probably long since found and devoured every underground cicada larva before they ever got a chance to fatten up.

If he has, that will be the only benefit that dog has ever provided me. And I say this in spite of the efforts of some readers to "educate" me on Jake's behalf - including the anonymous person who mailed me, anthrax style, an unmarked package containing a book by Sharon Creech called "Love That Dog." It contains passages such as:

And in the car

he put his head

against my chest

and wrapped his paws

around my arm

as if he were saying

Thank you thank you thank you.

Nice try, whoever you are, but this is not the way Jake Biscuit conducts his domestic affairs. In my upcoming book, "Hate That Dog," it would be more like:

And in the car

he put his head

beneath the brake

and wrapped his paws

around the clutch

as if he were saying

Bet I can make you cause a 17-car pileup on Interstate 81.

But if he eats all the cicadas on my property all is forgiven - so long as he throws them up on somebody else's.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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