Imani Laird

2023-2024 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Imani Laird, 17

Honorable Mention, 17-18 Age Group

Newton, Massachusetts

It seemed like all the cicadas in the world had decided our concert was the perfect place to perform their mating calls.

The red-eyed insects clung to the treetops, making an incessant, rhythmic-sounding whine. Scores of their shells surrounded our feet, and we attempted not to step on them, fearing the distinct crunching noise would add to the cacophony of sound.

It was 2021, and my youth orchestra tried to make the ongoing global pandemic seem normal by continuing our regularly scheduled programming. Except, it would never be normal, and because of social distancing guidelines, we had been relegated to play in the parking lot of our usual performance hall. Adding on to the chaos, just when we came out of our year-long quarantine, the cicadas of Princeton, New Jersey, had decided it was the ideal time to crawl out of the ground after 17 years of hiding.

The cicadas’ presence overwhelmed us as we attempted to play the Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi. A cicada landed on our keyboardist, and she promptly screamed, pushed her keyboard over, and had to be escorted off the “stage” in tears. Her teacher, who was in the audience, took on her role while we hesitantly played the rest of the piece. If you ask any of my fellow orchestra members their memory of the concert on June 13, 2021, most would probably say, “There were way too many cicadas.”

Writing this now, the irony is not lost on me. Here we were playing the Four Seasons, a piece of music that attempted to capture the beauty of nature, while simultaneously being annoyed by what nature had done.

In my junior year, I enrolled in an environmental science class offered by my school. In these lessons, the topic of noise pollution stuck out to me. Stereos, lawnmowers, and particularly loud rock concerts all exceed a certain decibel level and adversely affect human health. Beyond these more obvious examples, this class introduced me to the effects of noise on wildlife. Sound is a significant part of the animal kingdom, as it is used to attract mates, navigate areas through echolocation, and avoid predators. Loud, human-made noises disrupt terrestrial and aquatic animals’ ability to survive.

With all this in mind, I’m left with a different perspective regarding The Great Cicada Emergence of 2021. Was it possible that humans were the more intrusive presence in the grand scheme of things? Our music may be beautiful to our ears, but it might just be disruptive to the cicadas. And weren’t we the ones who paved over all of the cicadas’ natural habitat and left them with so few trees left to use? If you think of it that way, humans were responsible for forcing the cicadas to find their mates using trees in a random parking lot.

There’s this notion that nature’s value solely lies in its utility to humans or in its beauty for us to admire. When it doesn’t satisfy either of those requirements, humans begin to complain and despise it. However, despite our cognitive complexities and technological advancements, were we really so fundamentally different from the cicadas? We were both just living organisms trying to survive within the confines of our environment. Our parallels become even more apparent the more I think about it. We were both making what we considered music after being in isolation for an extended period of time. Perhaps we as humans are not as disconnected from the natural world as we like to think.

The cicadas continue to follow me. I have moved from New Jersey to Massachusetts, and in the summer of 2025, cicadas are expected to engulf New England. I can’t say I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty of the cicadas’ mating calls. That would be a lie. What I can say is that I think it’s a fallacy to believe nature’s value only exists in relation to humans. Their mating calls are valuable to them, and my orchestral music is valuable to me. Thoreau says, “We, too, are out, obeying the same law with all nature,” and I agree. Every organism has a different role in the ecosystem, and it’s important that we cherish each and every one.