Thursday, July 17, 2008


As if I hadn’t written enough about insects and wildlife lately, along comes the Katydid, and “The Sewanee Messenger” announces that Dr. Harry Yeatman, zoologist, predicts we’re in for some colossal buzzing from The Katydid Night Symphony, mostly at dark and sometimes during cloudy days on The Mountain. A whole lot of buzzing will be going on when the male Katydid begins calling females to breed and warning other male Katydids not to invade his territory. I haven’t sighted any of these critters on the window screens when lights are turned on at night, nor can I distinguish between the incessant singing of other night insects at Sewanee and “Katydid or didn’t she?”

In fact, I’m a sorry representative of a southerner because I find it difficult to distinguish between locusts and cicadas (the latter of which abound in the South). The two exceptional facts I know are that locusts destroy crops and cicadas are relatively harmless. I remember a June vacation spent chasing cicadas in North Carolina during one of their 17-year resurrections. A scary noise began when hundreds of thousands of grubs appeared after 17 years of living underground and became singing cicadas. Their resurrection took place near Hickory, North Carolina where I accompanied my botanist friend Vickie who was attempting to discern whether cicadas feed or drink from plant life as adults. The cicada symphony was a loud, sawing noise, exploding all at once in the forest, and I felt like I was hearing, not seeing, an Easter sunrise. No, cicadas do not feed on cone-bearing trees, and I haven't viewed another resurrection of the cicadas. This past May, another breed of the insects resurrected again in many southern states, including North Carolina, and inspired chefs’ appetites for recipes using cicadas. You can go online and read about preparing them for the table if you’ve a mind to do so --I don’t have that inclination. As I said, I have difficulty differentiating between cicada and locust and use the words interchangeably; e.g., in a poem entitled “Locust Grove.” Actually, Locust Grove is a small cemetery which an uninformed southerner misnamed, but Locust Grove somehow sounds more lyrical than Cicada Grove, and seems a fitting name for the burial ground of Sarah, wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Here’s the poem of that name which appeared in AFTERNOONS IN OAXACA published by Border Press:

Sarah Knox Davis is not sad
lying in a locust grove,

smiling at the timeless serenade,
steady zee of cicada.

In this even sound of neverness
she is no lady of sorrow

and not even forgotten,
distinguished by dying at 21,

wife of a failed president,
a failed Confederacy.

She is immortal,
breathing the sleepy cemetery air,

a lesson of inspiritedness.

Life, says Sarah,
is just this intermingling

flesh fallen away,
spirit moving in yellow sunlight,

fondling the overgrown grass.

Why the curled brown leaves
still crisp, scattered atop the tomb,

if not some sign of the immortal,
unmoved by season?

Sarah has settled in beneath the marker,
having marked nothing

except the quietness of lingering,
just lingering in ultimate being,

reminding us that her life
in the surround of grave,

the region of no trespass,
reveals pain as a valiant myth

and not to be believed.

She is, we will be
the center of the seamless circle,

the steady hum, faultless beat
of spirit irreducible, anchored

in the heart of the universe,
the parched summer grass

of Locust Grove.

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