Our arrival in Virginia coincided with the arrival of none other than… Magicicada Brood II. Actually, Brood II arrived a few days before we did.
Our driving day was another one of those rainy days, truth be told, we’ve had quite a few rainy driving days throughout our journey, but it’s typically a light rain as it was this time around. We arrived at our campsite in a pretty wooded area of Virginia near Washington D.C. in the late afternoon. The rain subsided prior to our arrival and allowed us to set up at the campsite, it was a minimal set up as we were only going to be there a few days. We walked Angel and called it a day. Nothing unusual.
The next morning, I noticed some beetles around the campsite. I’m not too crazy about beetles, but I felt pretty confident that I could avoid them.
The next day we visited the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazey Center. We’d been here for the first time about six years ago at which time they had the flight test shuttle Enterprise on display and this time we came to see the real Shuttle Discovery.
Discovery is the most accomplished shuttle, she flew from 1984 to 2011 on 39 missions for a total of 150,000,000 miles. Discovery flew on every kind of mission that shuttles were designed for, including space station building, satellite launching and Hubble Telescope repair, and spent a total of 365 days in space. WOW!
She’s just as she was when she ended her long and honorable career, not sparkly and bright but worn and weathered and wise looking. A touching fact about Discovery: there is a black tile amongst all white tiles below the corner of the right window. This tile represents a tear, as Discovery was the return to flight mission after both the Challenger and the Columbia disasters. And Discovery is the only one of the shuttles that has that “tear”.
So I spent the afternoon with my “Junior Docent”, Hector, getting all the details about all of the aircraft and spacecraft and other stuff. I love visiting these Air & Space museums with Hector because it’s like having my own private tour.
When we returned to the campsite, we heard a loud singing sound that we knew was some kind of insect. Cicadas came to mind, but we thought we’d heard cicadas down in the Okefenokee Swamp and these sounded different.
Then the following morning Hector mentioned that there’d been a lot of “dead bugs” on the car that seemed to have fallen from the trees above it. I looked up at the trees and indeed there were bugs all over the leaves. This, I really didn’t like.
Next, we visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens. George Washington acquired Mount Vernon in 1754 and spent the next 45 years expanding the house, paying close attention to all sorts of little details.
The grounds are extensive, with two formal gardens, and original and restored buildings including slave’s quarters, a blacksmith shop, a smokehouse, a salt house, a spinning house, and gardeners’ quarters.
The setting is spectacular, with many old growth trees. The back porch of the main house faces the Potomac River and a green space beyond it. Hector and I walked out onto the back yard of the main house and saw a bald eagle fly by!
The main house reflects the President and Mrs. Washington’s sense of fashion. The rooms are painted in vibrant colors that were very expensive at the time. George Washington was keenly aware of how his surroundings reflected his status as a Virginia gentleman and later as President.
The museum and educational center contain a vast array of information about George Washington’s life, his accomplishments in both wars that he served in, his innovativeness as a farmer, his strong influence in the management of his estate even while he was absent, all these traits contributing to his selection as President. A fascinating life.
That afternoon when we returned to the campsite, the “song” was very intense, and coming from the entire forest, really indescribable to someone who has never heard it. And more “dead beetles” everywhere.
That evening I met my good friend, Idalia for dinner. Idalia writes the thoughtful, motivational and funny blog “YaYa Speaks”. We had a lovely time catching up and talking about current and future adventures.
I returned to the campsite, this time running into the RV. The song was not as intense as it had been but still quite present.
On our last day, we drove to the Arlington Cemetery, parked the car, and rode our bicycles to the National Mall. Since it was the week before Memorial Day, there was beautiful little ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
We rode around the National Mall. Bicycles are a great way to travel from one end of the Mall to another. The perimeter around the mall is 5 miles. And can take forever to walk (especially if you have a photographer with you).
We stopped in at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum on the Mall for a quick tour.
Since we’d just visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, we went to see the original plane that the brothers flew that fateful day in 1903, which is displayed in this museum.
Hector also wanted to see Spaceship One, winner of the “Ansari X Prize” for the first private spaceship to make it to space.
After our quick tour of the museum, we had lunch and headed back. And got stuck in some nasty rush hour traffic returning to Virginia. Oops.
Back at the campsite, the song continued. After a little research, I discovered that the bugs in our campsite were in fact cicadas, and this group in Virginia is part of Magicicada Brood II (a brood includes cicadas of the same life cycle). They’ve emerged to mate after having gone underground as nymphs in 1996, 17 years ago. Millions are expected to emerge between North Carolina and New England, prompting nicknames like “Swamaggedon”.
When they emerge they shed their exoskeletons, thus the “dead beetles” we kept finding. The song is a mating song by the males. Males and females both die off after mating and laying their eggs. The young nymphs then dig themselves into the ground to suck the liquids of plant roots. And the cycle will begin once again 17 years later (for this particular brood, some have 13 year cycles, others shorter).
Now I was starting to develop a little fondness for the little buggers. They are actually somewhat cute after they molt with their large eyes and lacy wings. Much cuter than beetles. And they’re (mostly) harmless. I also learned that cicadas symbolize rebirth for the Chinese and some others. Wearing a jade cicada or other cicada pendant is thought to bring good luck for those making a major change in their lives such as a career change, marriage, graduation, or migrating to a new place or country. And perhaps they also bring good luck to those going on walkabout…