“EXCUSE ME, but who do you think you are tumbling into my den?” The voice was deep, sonorous. “Not so much as a knock on the door or a hello,” it growled. Suzi drew back as far as she could, but she was trapped. The wet thing pulled away, but Suzi felt danger. She had no idea what was there with her. She decided that being exceedingly polite may be her best defense.
“My apologies, sir,” she stammered. “I lost my balance and my manners in one fell swoop. I sense something deliciously warm above, and all I can do is climb. I have been climbing for days.”
“Is it that time already?” The voice in the dark was gentler. “How quickly the years roll by.”
Curiosity overtook Suzi’s good sense. “What time is that, if you pardon my asking?”
“Time for the neighborhood to get all mixed up. You cicadas will be moving up top this year more than ever. Let me see your eyes…hmmmm. You are part of that Brood X, aren’t you? You are the first up! What’s the rush?” The stranger appeared to be well informed.
“I truly have no idea,” Suzi said. I have spent forever sucking on a tree’s root, which got to be rather boring. I just stopped paying attention. Recently, I got the urge to move, and I have the feeling that something big will happen soon. May I ask into whose home I now have dropped?”
“Certainly! I am Sam Salamander. I am of the Yellow Spotted Salamander clan, and I have just returned home after my annual jaunt for a couple of days above ground. Met a few friends, took care of some business,” chortled Sam, mostly to himself. “And you do not want to be heading up early. You know the saying. The early bird gets the worm. That goes both ways. The early worm gets gotten.”
Suzi had tried to be polite, but this odd creature was rambling about a mystery, and an annoying one at that. She most certainly was not a worm. And what was “a bird” anyway? Suzi paused and took a few deep breaths (a relaxation trick she had learned from a shrew), then patiently acknowledged his unsolicited advice. “I thank you for your concern, but I must be on my way. I, too, must meet friends,” although clearly she had no ideas of what “a friend” meant. Suzi knew that if she sounded positive and had strong body language, she did not need to know what she was talking about to be convincing. “Before I depart,” she added haughtily,” You mentioned something about time. Who is time?”
“What, not who.” replied the salamander. “You and your many brothers and sisters, your whole subspecies, have been growing underground for about 17 years. According to my calendar, you have one more month before you are to take over the forest. How do you all keep track of 204 months? It is all I can do to remember to clamber out to the pond once every 12,” rambled Sam.
Suzi thought this blubbering old fellow could not be more confusing or, frankly, irritating. What was he going on about with all those numbers and nonsense words? And what is a subspecies or forest anyway?
She had not planned a visit, and now, so much time later, he was wasting her time. Time much better spent seeking the warmth and solving the mystery of “soon.”
“My apologies, Sam, but I just don’t know about tracking time. I do have to leave now. Thank you for the visit,” she said as firmly and sweetly as she could muster.
“Just be careful,” Sam warned. Suzi just nodded and headed up towards the heat. She was determined to get her own answers. Soon.
Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Center Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center, which is home to lots and lots of cicadas!