Yesterday, I was riding my bike down the sidewalk next to a field near my work. The weeds and wildflowers are overgrowing the sidewalk and punctuating the air with the harsh smell of ragweed and the sweet smell of other flowers. I really enjoy that stretch during my morning and evening bike rides because a few miles down the road, I get into a downtown area with lots of traffic. It’s like a tiny oasis before I reach the desert of humanity’s progress. But I digress.
As I was riding down this particular stretch of sidewalk, a flying grasshopper took flight directly in front of me and it flew away from me in the same direction that I was riding. It slowed down, but then saw that I was still directly behind it, so it sped up again. We went together for a short while, this grasshopper and I. Then, the grasshopper went off the sidewalk and onto some weeds nearby.
As I rode onward, I thought about the hours that I used to spend “hunting” flying grasshoppers when I was a child. My parents’ back yard seemed to teem with them during the heat of the summer. I remember running around trying to catch them. Sometimes, I would stalk them as stealthily as a tiger, and they would always seem to know when I was about to pounce. Off they would fly, and off I would follow.
I would run with those black and golden wings just outside my reach. Some of these grasshoppers were strong and would fly very high in the air, but I knew that they would eventually tire. Unlike butterflies or bees, flying grasshoppers seemed to only be able to fly up the air for a short while. Eventually, they would come back to earth. Some were smart and would simply fly over to the neighbor’s yard. I never would trespass, so they were safe. I would then hunt for another.
When I finally did catch one, I would hold it gently in my hands. Slowly, I would open my hands just enough so that I could look at that creature. It would spit little bits of grasshopper tobacco out of its mandibles at me, and I remember thinking what a silly bug a grasshopper is indeed.
Once, I caught a flying grasshopper far too easily. He was a big guy with a “giant” wing span. I plucked him right out of the air! As I slowly opened my hand to gaze at that magnificent insect, I remember a chill of horror running through me as I realized that this grasshopper only had one of the large powerful hind legs (or “jumping legs” as we used to call them).
After the initial shock at the realization that he was not his whole self, I just felt sad for the bug. I opened my hand immediately to let him fly away. However, he didn’t fly away. He just sat there staring at me from the palm of my hand, his mandibles chewing incessantly upon themselves. To be sure, I don’t really know what he was looking at since grasshoppers’ vision is a little different than humans. Nevertheless, we two creatures sat staring at one another for a long time with neither of us moving. I remember wondering what battles that poor old grasshopper had fought. Perhaps a bird had tried to grab him and his last chance of survival was granted him by a trace of wind or change in direction from the bird. I also thought that I might have been too rough on him, either at that point in time or when he was a much younger flying grasshopper. I wondered what I would look like when I got old.
I don’t remember what happened after that. I think that I eventually put my hand on the ground and the old grasshopper warrior slowly crawled away. I do remember that for such a small thing, the little interaction between the grasshopper and myself did change me. After that time, I remember I didn’t have quite the reckless abandon that I once had in catching grasshoppers. There was a little part in the back of my mind that told me to be careful. I wanted to have fun, but I came to realize that I didn’t want to hurt the little grasshoppers as well.