It just wouldn’t be summer without the singing of the jar flies.
I grew up with that cacophonous serenade, and even now, decades after my childhood in that Smoky Mountain “holler” where I spent my childhood, nothing can transport me back to a simpler time than the ebb and flow of that music on a sleepy summer evening.
The sound can be quite jarring — pun intended — when you aren’t used to it. I remember my mother telling me how my older sisters reacted to the shrill call of the jar flies, or cicadas, after they moved from a home in Maryville to that rural hollow, living next door to Mamaw and Papaw Braden. You think it’s noisy in town? Find a spot out in the country where the jar flies cut loose with their shrill music. They will drown out other sounds with no trouble at all.
I did a little online research on jar flies, also called dog day cicadas. They can grow up to two inches long, and in mid- to late summer, they begin emerging from their underground homes to find upright structures where they can molt their exoskeletons. When the adults come out of these shells, their wings aren’t completely formed and they can’t walk, so they dry out and stretch their wings for a bit before flying off.
Finding an exoskeleton still clinging to a tree truck was quite a prize when I was a child. If you weren’t too squeamish about touching them, they could be used to scare the more timid kids or sometimes even adult women. Not that I would ever do that … But I remember my nephew, only a few years younger than I am, chasing me with one. I’m sure my grandsons would love to find some of these treasures now. I’m equally sure their sister and their mother would not be quite as amused.
But it’s not the shell I think of when those hot summer evenings roll around. It’s the music.
These days, I enjoy sitting in the back yard with a good book late in the afternoon. The jar flies begin singing as the day wanes, first a few, then an entire orchestra as more and more join in the nightly jam session. I close my eyes and lean back and just listen, one ear in this present moment and one ear tuned to the same sounds from five or six decades ago.
The jar flies’ song is like an ocean wave with its undulating movement of sound. As it ebbs, it trails off like smoke lazily wafting its way to the sky. Then the concert begins again, exuberantly, confidently, scouring my mind and soul of any disturbances and leaving in its wake a peace that’s indescribable.
I feel the tension melt away from my neck and shoulders as the music travels over me, almost a living thing intent on massaging out the kinks and knots of the days’ toils and cares. How blessed we are, I always think, that God would
be so good to give us
this gift — a super-sized gift in a very small package.
Isaiah 26:3 says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (KJV).
When the jar flies sing, that, for me, is about as perfect as it gets.