I found this little gem on the trunk of a pine tree the other day. It is the remaining casing, shining in the golden rays of the morning sun like a delicate carving of amber, and perfectly embodying the memory of a cicada. Funny how something like this can trigger a cascade of memories and flood the senses with the sights and smells and sounds of something that happened decades ago, and bring it back as clearly as I see this cicada shell before my eyes at present.
A wizened old woodcarver- a mentor and a teacher, his young turkeys out behind his home, a couple of old plastic milk jugs, two excited kids, and a 17 year cicada cycle in the full glory of its 17th year...
My brother and I loved the elderly man. He taught us how to sharpen our knives carefully with a whetstone and a leather strop. (What kid doesn't like an excuse to spit on something?) Chip-carving, relief carving, carving in the round... He made it all look so easy. His quaint and rustic little cabin was lined with guitars and fiddles and sweet-sounding dulcimers he had hand-crafted himself. In addition, there were the endless pieces of both large and small wood carvings of all sorts, native american inspired busts, chests and boxes telling old stories, cuckoo clocks, and twisted-looking walking sticks intricately carved with delicate countryside scenes and topped with the regal and majestic likeness of a great eagle or a curious little raccoon.
It smelled faintly of leather and cigars, but predominantly and sweetly of wood. This was, no doubt, at least in part due to the band saw. He would roughly cut a shape with it while we watched in rapt awe. The floor of his little wood shop room was always lightly dusted in fine and fragrant saw shavings. I remember my younger brother could just barely see over the top of the table. I wasn't much taller. He always had our full attention. Next to his weathered old hands and big calloused fingers, which worked the wood expertly and deftly, my little fingers felt all thumbs. He wasn't a man of many words, but more a worker of an ancient art. That's not to say he rarely spoke, he just made every word count and we hung on every one. I remember him telling us things like, "wood remembers." I remember him having us smell the different pieces as he pointed out to us the color and grain and qualities of each and telling us what kind of wood it was. "Touch it. See how this one feels softer like butter, while that one is harder and denser?" Actually to be precise, it was more like he was introducing us to what kind of tree the wood had come from, almost like you could imagine meeting the tree itself and thanking it for the beautiful wood that now lay in your hands. To enter his little cabin felt like you were entering into a fairy tale. It could have been the dwelling and workshop of dwarfs, except everything was of course of normal proportions.
He gave me my first cat, a lovely little calico kitten, one of a litter his cat had had. He had already named her Stashy. Of course we kept the name; and I adored and cherished her for years to come afterwards.
One particular day, the woodland around the woodcarver's house was alive and astir with an almost deafening buzzing. He explained to us that the noisy chorus we were hearing was cicadas that had been living and developing underground underneath the trees for the past 17 years and had only just come out. They wouldn't come out again like this for another 17 years. We were awestruck. We felt like discoverers of a giant and rare treasure in the small size and shape of a cool-looking bug. And then he told us that the turkeys liked to eat them! We found ourselves catching up the raucous little things and excitedly putting them into the mouth of old plastic milk jugs! After catching a sufficient supply of them, we'd turn the milk jug upside down, through the fencing wire, into the little grassy pen where he was keeping the juvenile turkeys. The turkeys caught onto this game very quickly. They were only too happy to oblige us by gobbling up the bugs like they had just been given the turkey equivalent of the most addicting buffalo wings ever during a turkey super bowl party. We squealed with delight and took off to catch more as the cool autumn breezes gently stirred through the leaves of the onlooking trees. We repeated this process several times until the turkeys couldn't possibly hold another bite.
All this came flooding back to me the other day when I saw this little cicada shell sparkling in the sunshine on the trunk of a pine tree. It was as though it were beckoning me to follow it through the wood to the memory of stories it held. I suppose there are some similarities between people and trees. After all of course, wood remembers.
I'm Debbie. I love listening to chickens cackle and sing. I love Lindt chocolate truffles, a good cup of coffee, and a good book.