By The Littlewildman
In the technological nightmare we live in today it is easy for people to forget the power that Mother Nature possesses. We live day by day, aimlessly frolicking with our fingers through fields of I-garbage on some sort of tablet, ignoring the natural world around us until it slaps us in the face. For many residents in Northern and Central New Jersey this is exactly what happened this summer.
Mother Nature did not reveal herself through an act of god that totaled a shore town or decimated a national monument. She reminded the residents of many small towns that they cannot live apart from her influence by unleashing a brood of cicada. A brood that had been waiting below the surface for seventeen years to reek havoc on unsuspecting human life.
I have never seen so many insects flying through the air at one time. Cars, telephone poles, garages; all swarming with the flying screechers. The sound emanating from their thorax, hounding runners, dog walkers, and children on play grounds, was reminiscent of some terrible Sci-fi mind control. In some instances it was downright hilarious to whiteness grown men and women shrieking as a cicada touched down in their hair or on their shirt.
I am not ashamed to say that I am one of those people. As the cicada approached my area, my anxiety rose in synchronization with the never ending drone of their mating call. It became so loud that it consumed the sounds of traffic on Route 78. While driving, it was almost as if your were watching a TV show with the picture on screen, but only white noise for audio. Never have I been so reluctant to begin my chores outside.
Unbeknownst to me the bugs were attracted to the sounds of motors running. Weed whacking became more of a circus act than any other activity. I had one eye on the sky and the other on the grass waiting for some love hungry bug to test my resolve. At the sight of a winged intruder, I would begin a careful ballet comprised of pirouettes and mad weed whacker swipes through the air, all with the engine at full throttle. Should one penetrate my defenses, I would retreat in deer like fashion sprinting in whatever direction I was facing, with reckless abandon. Sometimes these occurrences resulted in a “stop drop and roll” maneuver, more commonly known as tripping over my own feet. Every time I was operating something mechanical near trees and a branch would brush my shoulder, I would rocket into a frenzy.
Mowing the horse paddocks and grounds became a form of torture. The once straight and neat mower lines across the lawns looked more like the undirected stumblings of a bum drunk on ripple wine. As I was now piloting a machine, with seemingly no escape, I had few options for salvation. Once, I abandoned ship simultaneously spinning in a 180, removing my shoe and firing it like a land to air missile taking down my assailant. This was a short lived practice as it resulted in my sock being covered in a pile of manure.
I finally decided that I could no longer attempt feats of aerial gymnastics and must face the issue in a more masculine way. The answer was simple; cover every inch of my body with clothing and ignore the 100 degree heat index. As the days went by I prayed that Mother Nature would give me some relief. The news said it would only be about another month. For a moment I contemplated excuses not to mow, but begrudgingly I returned to my chores despite the swarm.
One afternoon I was graced by the presence of a companion I had never paid much mind to before. A barn swallow sat on the fence and watched me curiously while I began to suit up for battle. He bounced around a bit on the rail no doubt mocking the heaviness I felt from the sweat laden clothes adorned. I watched him jostle with laughter for a moment knowing the joke was on me and started my engine.
It was not long after the mower fired up that another insect-casanova was on his way to intercept and swoon my Kubota zero turn. I cringed and braced for impact when something happened that sent a shiver of relief down my spine. My funny little friend on the fence rail, leapt into the air and tilting his rudder, made a screaming pass across the paddock. In a flash he had engulfed the rogue and returned to his station on the fence post.
I was so thankful I literally stopped mowing stared at my savior and did my best to imitate his whistle hoping he would catch my drift. Suddenly I realized that we were no longer alone. The fence rails were beginning to fill with swallows. No fewer than 20 of my newest and most favored bird-companions sat in eager attendance of the impending feast. I was not prepared for the show that I was about to receive.
With a glimmer of hope, I pressed on in my endeavor preparing myself for the worst of the insect disturbance, and within a few minutes the brood answered. Yet this time it was different, the birds had learned, and I mean they really learned. After watching me for the last three weeks they began to associate my mower with food. Only I had been unaware of this advance in strategy, but it did not take long for me to catch on. As I was approached on all sides by my enemy the rail began to empty and the birds took flight circling the mower, sometimes diving within a foot of my face.
At first I was startled, afraid I would be struck by my valiant little friends, but the aces never once faltered. They possessed no fear while performing aerial acts that would make a top gun pilot jealous. They seemed to be elated and so was I. In my head I began to hear Richard Wagners “Ride of the Valkyries”. Submitting to an unstoppable urge I began belting it out with a huge smile on my face. They were victorious; Mother Nature had headed my call. She had sent me feathered guardian angels and for the rest of the summer the birds never left my side while I mowed. They would take flight even after the cicada had left, intercepting anything the mower flushed: the pesky lawn moths and dreaded grass hoppers. I was honored to switch roles and play the part of bird dog for the winged hunters. I know it is only foolish human thinking, but I would like to believe we had an agreement of sorts. Even now as fall sets in and I see less and less of my feathered friends, as we cross paths I believe I see them wink at me from the rail and I answer with a smile and a whistle.