As Yellow Season ends, here come the cicadas

tamrawilson Uncategorized

If you’ve lived in the Carolina Piedmont very long, you know that in April, pollen coats everything from pets to porches, turning blue cars green and red cars orange.

The epitome came around May 1, when pollen-laden fluff swept into the garage, collected on steps and corners. I dusted handfuls of it off my outdoor furniture, but somehow managed to not to tear, cough and sneeze as much I have in the past.

I’ve spent 41 springs here. Back at the beginning, I don’t remember sweeping fluff off the steps or watching pollen change the exterior color of my vehicle. Maybe my awareness of the torment is a function of my proximity to trees. Those early years were spent in a rather treeless housing development. I worked in downtown Hickory. I wasn’t surrounded by woods.

What I do remember was the full glory of a Carolina spring—a parade of blooms starting with jonquils and redbud trees, moving on to forsythia, dogwood, iris, tulips, lilacs, the inevitable riot of azaleas in white, pink, lilac and red.

Since 1987, I’ve lived on wooded lots full of oak trees and their stringy blossoms. We can thank oak trees for much of what makes Yellow Season yellow. The stringies have an actual name—“catkins”—which may have something to do with the fact that they attach to cat fur. I have no idea.

Pine pollen is another major contributor to Yellow Season. And if there’s one thing Western North Carolina has plenty of, it’s pine trees. 

Promotional brochures don’t point out that our proximity at the foot of the Appalachians makes us sitting ducks for clouds of pollen bearing down on us each spring.

If you move here and don’t already have allergies, give it time. Mine took about 12 years to kick in. Sneezy, itchy eyes came upon me at about the time I developed full-bore sensitivity to poison ivy and bee stings. Oh, and tick bites. These days, if one of those arachnids attaches itself to my skin, I will itch the “bite” into tomorrow, well after the tick has been removed.

I’m glad there’s no Arachnid Season, but be forewarned: another scourge is coming—the 17-year cicadas. If predictions are true, this brood of cicadas will make Yellow Season look bush league.

I remember the last cicada summer with its screaming insects buzzing around like a scourge from the book of Exodus.  Cicadas—whether the annual variety or the 17-year screamers—are harmless unless you’re a young sapling, which they find especially tasty.

For the rest of us, the menacing through of cicadas taking over the outdoors for a spell   creep us out. Maybe it’s the buzzing sound or the idea of being dive-bombed by large buzzing insects with beady red eyes. Or the fact that they remind us of a cheesy sci-fi movie.

“Brood 10” or “Brood X” refers to one of the larger colonies of burrowed cicadas in North America. They’re making their first appearance since 2004. The largest swarms are expected in Western North Carolina (that’s us) and other parts of the Eastern United States.

Expect a cast of billions from well into the month of June. Aside from a deafening roar, they won’t create too much havoc.  In a larger sense, their holes provide natural aeration for our clay-heavy soil; the damage caused by females laying eggs (called flagging) is a natural pruning for trees.

Their appearance involves their mating ritual. The males’ loud buzzing is meant to be a love song to female cicadas. Think of a giant singles bar in the trees, and you get the idea.

Brood X hasn’t been seen since 2004, when the parents of the current brood died off, leaving their young to hibernate underground, feeding on nutrients from roots of trees and shrubs.

2021 is their time in the sun.

Just keep your windows rolled up. The last time around, he Brook X cicadas were blamed for causing highway accidents after drivers freaked over cicadas buzzing their way into open car windows.

Advice to the wise: keep your doors and windows closed. The wits you keep may be your own.

PHOTO CREDIT: Adrian J. Hunter