After he left René’s cozy home, Gaston felt a pang: homesickness. He missed his friends – the comfort of places he knew and familiar faces. It was an ache that sat in the pit of his stomach, tempting him to go back to the White…but he reminded himself that adventure was exciting – and lonely. He put on a brave face and continued his trek to the place that he needed to find.
It was a particularly hot day, and dry, so he stopped in the shade of tall weeds to cool off and catch his breath. As he looked around, he noticed something strange: many quiet watchers, just clinging to leaves and trees. What were they waiting for? And why didn’t they move?
Gaston greeted the nearest one with a hearty “hello!” He received only silence in response. Maybe they don’t speak the same language, he thought. He moved closer to one, hanging onto the underside of a leaf, and he waved (his antennae). That was universally understood, right? But the creature neither moved nor spoke. Stoic, Gaston thought.
He was just about to try shaking the creature when he heard a voice above him. “What in the world are you doing? You do know that those are empty shells, right?” Gaston looked for the source of the voice, but saw no one. “Where are you?” he asked.
In response, he heard a metallic buzzing sound, followed by a very large insect landing near him. “I’m right here. And the shell you’ve been talking to is my old skin”, the insect – some type of beetle? – told Gaston. It looked at him with large red eyes, and…smiled?
“I’m Faustin,” the insect said, “and I’m a periodical cicada. I’ve been underground for 17 years with many others like me, and we just emerged.” Gaston tried to take in what Faustin had just told him: many insects had been in the soil for 17 years before they were born? How long did these insects live? Did they eat snails?
Faustin saw the perplexed look on Gaston’s face and he smiled. “Periodical cicadas stay underground as nymphs for 17 years, but when we emerge, we must shed our skins and transform into the glorious creatures you see before you now.” It was beginning to make sense to Gaston, but he still wondered…”and we only live for a few weeks after we molt, during which we find partners and start a new generation of periodical cicadas”, Faustin added, as if he could read Gaston’s thoughts. “We’re vegetarians,” he added with a chuckle.
Gaston felt immensely relieved – these were big insects, and Faustin had some mouthparts that looked like they meant business – but he had no reason to doubt Faustin’s assertion that cicadas had no interest in eating snails, even small snails traveling alone. Gaston felt a smile spread across his face as he realized that this was yet another “first contact” for him.
Faustin fluttered his wings and, looking regretful, told Gaston that it was time he flew off to complete his life cycle. Before he took flight, though, he told Gaston something that Gaston thought about for a long time afterward. Faustin explained that he knew that it probably seemed like he had only a very short lifespan as an adult, but that for him, it was a wonderful period, a time where he was no longer earthbound, where he was resplendent in his new, shiny armor and his striking vermillion eyes. Faustin told Gaston that he wouldn’t change a thing; a life well-lived was one where even mundane moments were fully experienced, and where goals were realized. Faustin knew he’d help the next brood emerge in 17 years, even though he wouldn’t be around to meet them. He would live on, and his time above ground would be amazing.
And with those words, Faustin lifted off and flew into the trees. Gaston watched in wonder. Faustin was so wise – he understood that quality of life was superior to quantity, and he meant to enjoy every moment he had. Gaston pondered that idea for a while, pulling his head into his shell, which could be like a personal sensory deprivation chamber.
Gaston knew he couldn’t fly, but he felt kinship with the cicada: both had an important, challenging journey to accomplish, and as part of the quest, they would both be transformed – Faustin, literally, and Gaston, figuratively. Gaston was exhilarated and inspired. And, as he drifted off to sleep, he heard Faustin making his music in the trees, just like his many brethren.