Especially when it’s cicada season.
Infatti, you may not even avere to keep your ear to the ground. You’re likely hear the cicadas (cicadae?) everywhere.
There’s that distinctive, low hum of the cicadas. It sounds like a sonorous death ray from a low-budget, 1950’s sci-fi flick. And the drone is beginning to overtake Washington.
“The sound that you hear is what they make as their mating call to attract their mates so they can lay their eggs,” said Ashley Cuffia, a cicada expert at the Library of Congresso. “It’s like a high pitch to sound like ‘tsch, tsch, tsch.” It’ll get louder and louder and louder and then it’ll wind down.”
“It’s a big cacophony of noise,” observed Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO).
Cicadas generate a noise of 70 per 90 decibels, about the same volume as a lawnmower.
There aren’t too many cicadas in the district represented by Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL). But Soto lived in New Jersey “a half a lifetime ago,” the last time cicadas wriggled out of the ground on their 17-year cycle in 2004.
“It was like Biblical proportions,” said Soto of the cicadas he encountered as a child. “They’re really big. I remember thinking, as a little kid, thinking ‘What are these things and is this going to happen every year?'”
Il NOI. Capitol’s mostly been shuttered to visitors for more than a year due to the pandemic and added security precautions. An extra layer of wire fencing now encircles the Capitol complex. But the cicadas burrowed deep into the ground long before the fence.
Some pieces of legislation don’t even last as long as the cicadas.
“They sit underground for 17 years living off of tree sap. They come out for four to six weeks. Lay their eggs. And then they die,” said Cuffia. “That’s pretty much their purpose for being on Earth.”
Lawmakers have taken notice.
“People greet their visits with equal amount of scorn and excitement,” ha detto il Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) about the cicadas during a recent floor speech. “We were all trying to avoid stepping on them as we were walking.”
Some lawmakers are more prepared for the cicadas than others. Yours truly asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) if she was ready for the cicadas a couple of weeks ago.
“Apparently not,” replied Pelosi after a beat of hesitation. Her response triggered howls of laughter among reporters in the press gallery.
Sen Roy Blunt (R-MO), the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, even invoked cicadas during a big meeting on voting rights legislation.
“We don’t have many lengthy or spirited markups in this committee. They happen from time to time. It actually appears the cycle is very close to the appearance of the cicada,” said Blunt.
The Capitol grounds cover lush expanse of 58 acri. A 1.2 million cicadas per acre, that’s more than 70 million cicadas at the Capitol. O, di 130,000 cicadas for every Member of Congress.
But the cicada invasion at the Capitol itself might not be quite as intense as it could be. Congressional workers began digging a massive hole on the East Front of the Capitol complex in late 2002/early 2003 to create the Capitol Visitors Center (CVC). The CVC is a substantial structure buried into the ground, complete with offices, hearing rooms, the House Intelligence Committee, a secure location for Senate briefings, a cafeteria and an auditorium. It’s also where tourists enter when they visit the Capitol – when there’s not a pandemic. Congress opened the CVC in late 2008. Cuffia says the construction of a facility the size of the CVC may have curbed the presence of some cicadas this year.
“It all depends on how much digging they did and if they cut down a whole bunch of trees since they do depend on tree sap to survive,” said Cuffia.
Ma, fidati di me. There are plenty of cicadas crawling around the Capitol.
The Fox which lives on the Capitol grounds is devouring the cicadas. Good source of protein. The same with the hawks which fly around the Capitol grounds.
Some lawmakers just find cicadas annoying.
“I ride bicycles and I ride motorcycles and it’s just constant hit,” ha detto Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH). “I was traveling the district last week. I had one on my windshield.”
Some lawmakers may only see cicadas in Washington, DC because they’re not indigenous to their districts.
“We don’t have cicadas in Colorado. O, if we do, it’s like ten of them,” said Perlmutter. “We have lots of other critters. We have crickets and we have bullfrogs and lots of things that make noise.”
Perlmutter says he’s not looking forward to the cicadas dying and decomposing.
“It gets quite smelly,” Egli ha detto.
Cicadas sometimes find themselves interwoven with American politics – every 17 anni.
Opponents of former Sen. and eventual Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) emerged in the spring of 2004. The ad morphed a cicada into Kerry’s face.
President Ronald Reagan took note of the cicadas two broods ago in June, 1987. The Gipper compared the cicadas to his Congressional nemeses.
“I’m afraid, that like the cicadas, the big spenders are hatching out again and threatening to overrun Congress,” said Mr. Reagan during his remarks from Camp David.
Cicadas may have wormed their way into the daily politics of Capitol Hill. But just for a few weeks.
“There are so many of them. They will be climbing all over your car. They will be climbing all over your porch. Some may hitch a ride on you when you’re walking into your house. There’s just so many of them that it makes it even more gross,” said Cuffia.
That’s why the Pergram family even has a poem about cicadas:
Where have you been?
I’ve been underground.
And I’m back again.
I don’t bite.
And I don’t sting.
All I want to do is sing, cantare, sing.”