I'm sure you have all heard the word "cicada" at one time or another, but it seems that perhaps the definition has been lost or misconstrued by most. This is apparent only because there appear to be so many people on the trail who are unaware of what these little creatures actually are and how their presence is significant. Cicadas are a locust species that live in a number of regions throughout the globe. The North American variety are usually concentrated in the south and make an appearance every 17 years. The cicada larva are deposited deep beneath the forest floor using small tunnels about the size of a quarter in diameter. There they spend the the vast majority of their lives maturing into a large flea-like insect. These things are nasty looking. They are about the size of a June Bug and colored a sandy brown. The front legs are angled backward like a preying mantis and the head is a smooth blank pellet devoid of eyes or any other features which would distinguish it as the head. On the 17th year, after the temperature reaches a palatable level, the cicadas arise from their sleepy lair and take to the trees in droves. They cling to the underside of leaves, we noticed specifically oaks and aspens. Although I'm sure they settle upon the leaves of other deciduous species, we just happen to notice dense pocket of them clung these two types of trees. I do not know why they stay away from conifers, our theory is that they use the leaves as a food source and sun protection.
Once these little buggers molt, a relatively large winged alien rises from the ugly flea-like casings. Don't get me wrong, the adult cicadas are ugly as all hell too. They have a large black and orange body about 2 inches in length and big red eyes about the size of a lentil. After the molt, there are literally millions of these little bastards. Looking out into the fields and open areas along the trail one can see swarms of these things flying around their colony trees. From this point, the cicadas have about 3-4 weeks to procreate and deliver their larva down into the underground caverns. During this period, the cicadas make an ungodly noise. I swear to all things holy, if I could have wiped cicadas off the face of the earth I would have. These things are completely and totally annoying. Individually they are relatively quiet. If you raise one up to your ear you can hear a faint squeaking noise but a single cicada wont produce enough noise to bother you. In swarms however, these guys will create a noise that is reminiscent of an industrial gas generator. The forest is alive with the cycle of gradually rising and falling screeches. At times the noise is deafening. Rob and I have been in situations where we literally could not have a conversation over the noise. Annoyance aside, it would be most unfortunate if we did not welcome any and all experiences this trip has to offer. We can now say that we were part of the 1 in 17 groups of AT thru hikers that hiked through a cicada year. Seeing entire trees eaten to bits, swarms of cicadas so big they looked more like rain clouds than bugs and yes, the overwhelmingly frustrating sounds of cicada mating are all things we are happy to have been a part of.
Rob has taken to calling areas of high concentration (of anything) a "village" or a "nation". For instance, when we arrive in a wide open field of tall grass he refers the area as "tick nation". Or when we were on the river he referred to the farm lands as "cow village". Without a doubt these titles have risen from his experiences in the middle east. Commonly referred to as "sand nation". My all time favorite was the description of a Pennsylvania as "rock nation". Thus the title of this post.