I wrote last year about nouns of assemblage, the packs of wolves, prides of lions, parliaments of owls or smacks of jellyfish that give our language the zest we enjoy.
I made some Chicago ones up. A haggle of bocce players arguing in Croatian. A bindle of cotton candy sellers hoisting their wares on shoulder. A whisper of old Polish women riding the bus to church on a gray and misty Sunday morning.
I have a new one today. A sadness of cicadas.
The sadness of cicadas comes because the trees scream in August. The bugs, of course, are doing the screaming. They’re inch-and-a-half critters, drawings of horseflies done by imaginative and fearful children.
The insects arise from multi-year slumbers, take to the trees and scream.
This seems like is should be a scream of cicadas, a yawp or bray of the inch-and-a-half bugs. But it’s not. It’s a sadness of cicadas. Because their screams mean summer will die.
It’s ending, the cicadas scream. We’ve started a long and tawdry wane. The calendar knows it, the thermometer knows it, the trees scream it and you should know it too.
Your summer is half-life, the sadness screams. It’s middle-aged but more so. We’re past the meridian here, the leaves closer to fluttering down in orange and red than budding in the tender green.
They scream to let you know.
They scream over ball games. They scream over beachfront grilling and tree-lined walks, hand in hand with someone who might just might take you home.
Your empire of picnics, your streetlamp kisses that taste of sweat and red wine, they’re all coming to an end, the sadness screams.
The summer is closer to death than birth. Are you?
There are worse things than a screaming green tree. The insects sing their swannish song, but we’re hearty, long-lived mammals. Our mementos need not be mori just yet.
We’ve still got time, hope, dreams. Our summers last for decades, just shuffled in with winters and falls.
This isn’t ending, we tell ourselves. Our summers are eternal.
And a sadness of cicadas screams to tell us we’re wrong.