We saw tons of cicada wings littering the pathways, a couple of dead cicadas, and we encountered one actual live cicada sitting on a blade of some kind of weed. Steve tried to pluck it off the weed and it thrummed furiously as it hopped away to another weed. We heard many more in the brush. Probably not millions upon millions, because most are presumably dead by now, but certainly thousands. They all seemed to be clumped in one small area of trees off the beaten path not far from Dix Pond. You could hear their frenzied humming, increasing in intensity, and then it died off. It’s definitely unlike anything I’ve ever heard before in my life.
The cicada I saw was larger than I’d pictured them being.
Matthaei would’ve been a great place to visit even if our goal hadn’t been to hunt out cicadas. It’s a vast and beautiful park. It’s definitely something that I would single out as one of Ann Arbor’s main assets.
The Conservatory was pleasant, full of exotic plant life and topped off with a surprisingly unshowy koi pond.
We saw all kinds of critters on the trails. We saw not one but two deer, one of which must have stood staring at us for over three minutes until we tentatively advanced ever so slightly forward. It let out a fearful (but also somewhat haughty) snort and was instantly gone. We saw hundreds of amazingly colored dragonflies, some bright green like an old soda pop bottle, some black, some black-blue, and a couple with huge white heads and translucent black wings. At first I thought the beating wings I was hearing were cicadas, but they were dragonflies. We saw a couple of skittish chipmunks, one huge brown squirrel, and what looked like a pondful of smallish black fish. There were buzzing things everywhere—flies, gnats, bees, wasps, mosquitoes. You couldn’t really walk anywhere without having to swat something out of your face or ear. Annoying though it was, it was also a sign that the park’s first priority isn’t pleasing its human visitors, which I appreciated.
Of course, humans tend to be by far the most amusing wildlife in settings like this. Apart from the occasional yowls and screeches of kids who hadn’t been given their morning dose of Adderall, Steve and I both chuckled at the spectacle of one woman who, on one of the most gorgeous and temperate days we’ve had in southeastern Michigan in weeks, complained about the weather and whined, “Let’s go back to the house where it’s cool!” As we were rounding the last corner on the way back to the parking lot, a family that was clearly on some sort of staged Father’s Day nature walk looked anything but happy about the whole experience. A couple of frowning teenagers in the group fiddled with the leaves of a couple of the plants on the trail and sulked. The man who was clearly the Head of the Household harrumphed over one of the teens’ attempts at identifying the plant life and barked that it was something else altogether (the implication being, of course, that the kid didn’t know what he was talking about). The coup de grace was the dad practically shouting “Let’s keep moving!” as though the entire family were a group of sullen soldiers on some sort of re-enactment of the Bataan Death March. You have to wonder why people who aren’t prepared to enjoy themselves bother to go to a place like a botanical park, where there are no video games, no TVs, no concession stands, no interactive exhbits, no tour guides to hold your hand, no bells and whistles—where there is nothing but miles of unadulterated, unfiltered, unmediated nature, nature, nature.
Someone wrote a letter that was published in today’s Ann Arbor News bemoaning the (cheap) admissions charge for Matthaei. The examples of activity in the letter, though, were all things you can experience for free. You don’t have to pay anything to walk the trails and see the glories of nature, less than six miles from the center of town. It’s difficult to know what this letter-writer was bellyaching about, unless the whining is based on some secondhand anecdote or some baseless assumption made without actually setting foot in the park’s grounds.