The way I figure it, you can’t blame a place any more than fault an individual for their mutual incompatibility.
People sometimes ask me why we moved back to Ontario after spending only a year or so out west, in Alberta.
It’s a hard question, with many answers.
Mostly, I tell them about the cicadas.
The alien screech of those delicately-winged insects, eyes set far apart on a squat, almost dumpy body, has a way of bypassing common sense. I only realized later that I never noticed it until I wasn’t there to hear it: that screech, that electric buzz rattling off the treetops, sounding off the frenzy of new life.
It was the white noise of childhood summers, and now provides a semblance of nostalgia for an admittedly scattered adulthood. That wretched, wonderful screech suddenly as gone, as removed as I became and then replaced by the robotic bleating my new city’s ubiquitous magpies.
You hardly ever see a cicada unless its dead, after having spent itself at last in the trees and then having fallen unceremoniously to the ground from the branches way up above. It is quite the journey, emerging from underground, taking flight, mating and dying. It is everything.
I never heard the cicadas in Alberta. They remained an unfulfilled promise of a rather unremarkable summer. My memory of that time is rather blurred and indistinct. I did see magpies, though, and almost every day.
Some cicadas emerge from the dirt in 13-or-17-year-cycles (and only in 13-or-17-year-cycles), in numbers so immense as to betray the mathematical import of the cycle itself. These cicadas, obviously, cannot be divided among themselves. They are prime.
You can’t always go back. But eventually we did move back because we could. That privilege was ours; the opportunity presenting itself just so. Nothing special, the difference between luck and fate remaining as firm as ever.
We drove across the country on rough roads and, inevitably, through a late-season blizzard, a five day journey in which the dog got sick, the Jeep lost all its heat and my succulents died, arriving in Ontario at end of March.
I heard the cicadas that summer. It was an odd sensation: I was struck by a feeling not so much of being, finally, home (because the notion of “home” has always seemed too neat, too trite to be of any good use), but of something’s stubborn having finally been shaken loose. The summer was no longer incidental.
We had gotten away with something, I just knew it.