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Leave Me at the Tree

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A cicada is a large, homopterous insect with long transparent wings. These grotesquely constructed bugs hang through the air emitting their shrill drone, the white noise of a summer night.

I never saw a cicada in person. But when I was younger I would find their shed skins clinging to the bark of the trees in my backyard. Beige and thinner than paper, the exoskeleton was a perfect little insect. There were four skinny legs clutching the bark and two protruding circles where the eyes had been and ridges along its sides. Only the vent slicing down its back hinted at an exit strategy. For a girl playing in the yard, finding the cicadas stuck to the trees was charming. The tree in my backyard and the overwhelming greenness of it all was mystical and consuming. They seemed to come alive in the summer, and when I found the ethereal shells of cicadas it seemed like something the trees were giving to me.
I did most of my growing up with my books and my backyard. Stories like Through the Looking Glass and The Magician’s Nephew gave me the idea that if I wandered around innocently enough and kept my eyes open I could find another world. I would tap on tree trunks and peer into mole holes, talk to the Black-eyed Susans and sympathize with the worms that surfaced after a rainstorm. Yet despite my best efforts, the flowers all ignored me and the tree trunks never melted into a doorway just big enough for eight-year-old-me to step through. The cicada shells were the only things I could find when I looked. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to ever encounter a live, flying cicada but I was always flattered when they left me their shells to take care of. I knew somewhere that they weren’t intended for me. I knew the cicadas didn’t see me in the garden and take pity because I couldn’t go on an adventure like Alice’s. Still I wondered at the delicacy of the hollowed insects like shadows clinging to the bark after the body that contained the will had left. The cicadas’ shells were elfin miracles.
I spend time in a different backyard in a different state now. There are no cicadas and not as many trees as I’d like. But just beyond my current backyard is a dense collection of trees that, in the spring, creates a sylvan canopy. The leaves become dark and slick in the rain and add a cushioned sense of calm to the view from my bedroom. With all the unnecessary complications that I’ve picked up from year to year, it’s nice to find solace in something as simple as the leaves on the trees in my backyard. I don’t try to impress flowers with my witty repartee anymore. I’m too busy and too tired. But I like to think that my backyard notices that and, like it gave me the cicada shells to marvel for lack of a hidden world, it gives me the comfort of a leafy-green horizon when everything else seems so uncomfortable.





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