Cicada Nests Are A Girl’s Best Friend
Lake Sandoval, Peru
Perhaps it was a stroke of irony. Instead of listening carefully to every word that our eco-guide Silver was saying about the environment of the rainforest, I was too busy tugging my shirt collar close together around my insect repellent drenched neck, which was after I made sure that my thick socks were firmly strangling my ankles to prevent the entry of what looked like an army of killer ants crossing in front of me. Sensing that I was thoroughly out of my natural habitat, the endless streams of various flying insects taunted me by swirling around the only bit of flesh that I allowed to be left exposed – my face. A few unidentified insects even snuck in through the loose weave of my hat and decided to make themselves as comfortable as I was uncomfortable. Just at the moment I was cursing myself for not putting on my mosquito head net – you know, the netted sack that you throw over your head and upper body then strap in sexily under your arms – Silver’s words suddenly broke through my anxieties to create even more of them.
Toxic. Venomous. Excruciating Pain. Paralysis. Amputation. Possible Death.
The words mingled in my head with regretful and longing thoughts of the comforts of my windowless, and most importantly insect-free, office in New York. To think it was my idea to place my vulnerable person by Lake Sandoval in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon! As a natural born city dweller, this trip was my gesture of diplomacy to the world of the wild, so there I was standing in sludgy red mud among colonies of busy insects with no recognizable exit to civilization. There were no phones in the area and the only other humans for miles and miles around were the same few sharing the little wooden bungalows with me. We only had six hours of electricity a day because everything was operating on a single generator. Since energy was a rare commodity in these parts, there was an inconsistent amount of water being purified and piped to our shower stalls so I would often find myself pathetically hugging the grimy tiled walls beneath the showerhead in the hopes of catching a few streams of water.
All of a sudden a piercing pain in my right pointer finger woke me from my silent rant. I was bitten by something and the pain was indeed excruciating! I looked around for the culprit but with hundreds of insects flying to and fro, I couldn’t seriously identify the guilty party. The pain intensified as my finger turned nearly beet red and swelled up to the size of a radish. Eventually the general intense pain subsided and a pulsing, hot itchiness took over, which was followed by waves of an unnerving numbness. At this point, I swallowed my pride, switched to using my left hand to hold my shirt collar closed, then whimpered to our guide, “Silver, I think something bit me. Please come and help. It really really hurts…” I had resorted to the damsel in distress ploy – it was a most shameless performance.
Our good guide slid through mud, stomped over ferns and skipped over crawling vines on the ground in an Olympics worthy jaunt to land right in front of me. My entire finger was swollen to the size of a bratwurst and the redness was spreading to the top of my hand. Immediately, Silver said, “Uh oh! We are going to need some cicada nest and tree liquid.” (With my Asian upbringing that almost sounded like a potential dessert.) So he wandered off as quickly as he came to forage the obscenely erect towers of brownish-red globs of nutrients that cicadas build to house their unborn. He broke off a few moist slabs and went off in search of tree liquid as he stabbed one tree to the next with his knife hoping to strike liquid. One tree yielded an ample supply of liquid so Silver found a big green leaf to collect some of it and mixed in the cicada nest.
He took his time mixing and molding as images of me with a four-fingered right hand danced across my mind. How will I left click my mouse without my pointer finger? Do they make special gloves for four fingered people in the wintertime? With which finger will I swipe off some cake batter from the mixing bowl? The pinky simply won’t do. As these crucial concerns flitted through my probably now paralyzed brain, Silver finally came back with the cicada nest mixture and very slowly molded it into a ring around my finger. My first ring from a man and no proposal to go along with it!
Being overly dramatic, I was fascinated by the battle between good and evil taking place on my finger. I imagined the good cicada nest extracts wrestling with the vicious bug venom to save me from a four-fingered existence. By the time we returned to the bungalows and joined the other groups, my rainforest ring became a ring of shame for it showed that despite being the only person with a mosquito head net and five varieties of insect repellent, I was still the only one to fall victim to nature.
I had to wear my ring of shame for seven hours before the pain slowly dissipated. It would take another week for my finger to fully deflate to its normal size. Although I was very bitter about my experience and relished the idea of slowly plucking off each wing and leg of the infamous insect, I realized that I had to thank it for enlightening me about the ways of nature. I went into the rainforest with the best of intentions but with the worst of attitudes and that cruel little insect helped me emerge one degree closer to understanding that nature is a perfect system that offers both problems and solutions – you simply have to embrace it or at least wear it around your finger.