The cicadas showed up by the hundreds about five years ago in Princeton, NJ. Periodical cicadas emerged from their nymph states after 17 years of subterranean slumber to amass on trees and sidewalks in crunchy carpets. They were hard to avoid and seemed lethargic from mating. Most of their lives are spent underground, and then they die shortly after transforming into their winged adult forms.
The cicadas arrived during my first year of vegetarianism; I remember making a conscious effort not to step on them and the rationale that I felt compelled to make known to my friends: “The difference between non-human animals and humans is one of degree not kind…” I was home for spring break, and the result of having a general lack of things to do, as I suspect is the case in most suburbs, was to congregate in the nearest yuppie-filled college town.
It was a day like any other in Princeton and we made all the stops: indian food, ice cream at Halo Pub, coffee, and an indie film at the theater where people laughed very often at nothing at all, always with a knowing air, a kind of controlled ha-ha-ha, which is different from a true laugh elicited from, say, a racist joke. The cicadas, when crushed underfoot, smelled like pine, or some earthy essence of the root-sap they fed on for so long. That day we walked on the tips of our toes, ice creams in hand, ignoring the bizarre scene around us—one of invasion by those creatures who populated a young planet—their story of rebirth and death.
I have since resumed eating meat, something that I try not to talk about (oops) but am reminded of at every meal. Once I was asked how long I had been vegetarian for. I counted back self-importantly to my sophomore year when I had taken that philosophy class with Ms. Bodanzsky, that strange women with the frizzy pouf of hair and googly-eyes (whom I have seen riding a bike in Princeton now that I think of it). I think back to that spring with the cicadas in Princeton.