It is late spring, and the world is humming again. No, not humming. Erupting. Our line of tiny towns on a desiccated plateau has become so loud, so colourful, that tears stream down our eyes and we reflexively move to cover our ears whenever we go outdoors. Popping pink cherry blossoms line the streets, line the gutters with confetti, line the ice-cream shop with Sydneysiders, come to experience all the flourishing fuss. To match the bumper blossom crop, loud and pulsating, the cicadas have returned in full force. A mass emergence, we haven’t seen so many in living memory. These enormous insects dash about like intoxicated hovercraft, ill-equipped for the waking world from a life spent underground, bashing into cars and people as they live out their last few days humming a chorused funeral song together in the sun. Children catch them, cover themselves in them, sticky legs adhering to cotton t-shirts like Velcro. There’s disagreement about the cause of this rare mass gathering of cicadas, and in all the local papers experts weigh in: the winter rainfall, the bushfires last summer; but one interviewed entomologist suggests that maybe, for cicadas, this is just normal, ‘something we don’t fully understand’ he says, a rare admission.
It is all so different to this time last year. Last year, apart from the constant artificial buzz of Elvis the Erickson S-64 Air-Crane fire helitanker, there was only that eerie silence. Last year we moved about cautiously in a soundless grey abyss, immersed in falling ash and the stench of death. It is estimated that three billion animals died in the 2019 summer fires, but this summer, though it is only just getting started, is already exploding in living colour. So much of it that everyone has headaches from the pollen. So much of it that we have to raise our voices to hear one another over the insect hum. So much of it that the birds, last year starving and scorched and sorry, are now so fat from the glut that they stumble about in gangs by the side of the road, laughing merrily to one another on the grass. Robyn and I are in the middle of it all, eating ice-cream under the cherry trees on the median strip, watching hot and bothered tourists pour out of SUV’s to take selfies under the blossoms. I have lemon sorbet, while she has buttered pecan.