For the last few weeks, we’ve been dealing with the arrival of the cicadas. This particular brood only comes out every 17 years, and it’s a lot of bugs.
Cicadas are big clumsy bugs. This brood stays underground, feeding, for 17 years. Then they emerge, shed their skin, and search for the ladies. Once they have bug fun, they lay eggs and die. The eggs hatch, drop back into the ground, and the whole process starts again.
I was here last cycle and thought it wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be. Turns out the problem was my lack of observational skills.
- Observation skills are a muscle you have to exercise on a regular basis.
The only way to get at the telling details that bring a story to life is to pay attention to the telling details. That’s hard for me. I’m visual spatial, which means I tend to do better with the big picture. Details can sometimes be chaotic and stressful to me.
But COVD-19 practically forced me to do that. With all the isolation, my muse desperately needed new input just to not stagnate. So I walked, and I observed. I tried to catch winter sunsets and sunrises and even watched the sun set in a rainstorm.
- No distractions allowed!
Cell phones are the worst here. It’s common for me to see people walking around outside, nose buried in a cell phone. I don’t get this. Is the phone truly so important that you can’t interact with the rest of the world? But you definitely can’t observe anything if you tune it all out.
- Pick out one sense and focus on it
This is what I had to try because it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed with too much information. I might one day look at the bark on the trees, and another day listen to the sounds the birds make. Or I stop to listen to the sound a stream makes as it goes over the rocks. Audio is a poor skill area for me, so I’ve been paying particular attention to it.
- Look past the attention-grabbing details for the hidden gold of the small details.
We live in a world where big and shiny competes for our attention. So it makes it easy to pay attention to the big thing and not all the little things. Big things only paint broad strokes. Little details add depth and flavor, much like salt does to food.
- Look in every direction–up, down, backwards, forwards
This one’s a hiking technique, observing what landmarks look like not only from approaching it in front of us, but after we’ve passed it. By doing this, I’ve been able to navigate back on Virginia’s many unmarked paths.
Writers often pay too much attention to what’s visual. Likely something that comes from watching movies where visual is all we get. But it leaves out readers who have preferences in other areas like auditory or kinesthetic.
Observing the Cicadas
Visual: They are big, clumsy bugs, about an inch log. Like the picture above, they have red, beady eyes. Their color matches the bark on trees. Some have wings and some don’t (I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’m assuming that the males have the wings). They can be found crawling up the barks of some trees. They shed an exoskeleton–I found piles at the base of some trees.
Audio: It sounds like aliens are invading. The constant hum is louder than the traffic. Sometimes it rises in waves and I can pick out buzzing. When I walked around, it would get louder as I got nearer to some types of trees. I used #5 and looked up at the tree. And I saw them, buzzing in and out of the branches.
Touch: Nope, I didn’t touch a cicada, don’t want to accidentally hurt any. But they don’t like the rain or the cold, especially when we dipped into the 50s for storms. No activity at all on those days. But the warmer it is outside, the louder they get. On a 90 degree day, their buzzing rises in waves and some scream.
Taste: Nope, not trying that. But others are. If you’re curious about how to eat cicadas, check this out.
Smell: That’s coming. Once they get to the end of the mating season and die, we’ll have the stink of dead bugs.
Anyone else getting cicadas? Tell me in the comments what you’re observing!
Interesting and useful post. I need to pay attention to details.
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I enjoyed this article. Wonderful advice on developing the habits and skills of observing.
I couldn’t resist your invitation to tell you my cicada story. This was a long time ago when my dad’s Air Force assignment took us to West Texas. Our second summer there, the cicadas came. They destroyed every plant in our backyard and left a stench and piles of bodies to sweep up. Our Siamese cat loved it. She’d run outside every time the door was open, gorge herself on cicadas, then come back inside and throw up. Worst of all was the noise. We had no AC, so with open windows, all we could hear was that constant sound going on and on, driving us crazy.
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