Polebridge, MT: The Grasshopper and the Godfather

Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.
—Don Corleone, The Godfather: Part III

Here at the yurt there’s always a bane of the day. Mosquitoes, heat, rain, cold, weeds, leaky water pumps, ground squirrels, freaky sounds in the night, car-eating potholes, you name it. The scourge du jour? Grasshoppers. Big and small, neon-green to coffee-bean, they jump, they fly, they eat. And eat. And eat.

Multiply them by the hundreds of thousands and you have an infestation of biblical proportions. Hitchcock material. If you were to look out over our meadows, you might delight in the sight of tall timothy swaying softly in the breeze. But then you would notice there is no breeze, just grasshoppers greedily gnawing the bloom of every three-foot blade of grass across eighty acres of land. Sensing your presence these winged creatures would then swivel their heads in your direction, gauging your every step with a pair of oversized compound eyes (in addition to three smaller eyes). When they’d determined you’d taken one step too many, they would flush en masse in every direction, carpeting the driveway, the yurt, the outbuildings, and, of course, the garden—what’s left of it. Where the foliage hasn’t been stripped to the stems, there’s a wake of moist brown droppings. Our twenty-four-square-foot patch of vegetables is now an all-you-can-eat buffet and outhouse for ravenous creatures with spectacular means of mastication.

IMG_2666Up until recently they’d seemed like only a nuisance, not a force of evil. Then came the day of reckoning. We decided to try out our screened-in gazebo tent (the Clam), something we’d bought to provide shady relief from the hot yurt—and the bees, and the horse flies, and the mosquitoes that make us miserable if we try to sit outside. The Clam, we thought, would fix all that. We brought out everything we’d need for a pleasant afternoon in the shade, only to find that the grasshoppers had beaten us to it. Inside and out, the tent was crawling with vehicles of mass mandibular destruction.

We put down our iced teas and books and picked up our “Superhigh Voltage Bug Zapper” tennis rackets—a gift from Chris’s brother after his family’s visit last summer—and started to stake our claim. We thrashed the air wildly, and the insects sprang from one side of the tent to the other, clinging to whatever they landed on—poles, nylon, chairs, hair, clothing, and our skin—and always, always turning midair so as to face us when they touched down. Chris bellowed and I screeched as we tried to smash the bugs into submission. One zap isn’t enough. It takes multiple overhand slams of high voltage to kill them. Our rackets sparked and smoked; the air turned putrid. We unzipped the tent and climbed out, defeated. Game, set, match.

IMG_2668“I can’t sit in there now,” I said. “It’s too disgusting, and there’s grasshopper blood on my chair.”

“Well, I’m staying,” Chris replied, banging his racket on the ground to dislodge a burnt grasshopper.

I went inside to heat water for a sponge bath. I intended to cleanse myself of the whole nightmare and retreat to the couch with a book I’d been anxious to start. As I waited for the water to boil, I looked for the wolf we’d seen the evening before. No sign. My focus shortened back to the window I was looking through, and I noticed a cluster of small holes in the screen. That’s odd, I thought. These don’t look like the work of Smokey or Bosworth’s claws. The holes are too neat. I went to the window on my side of the bed and saw the same thing. A tinge of foreboding zipped through my spine, and I turned to survey the windows circling me. Grasshoppers crawled across every one of them, chawing through the screens.

“Chris! Come in here!” I called out the window before slamming it shut. I hated to close up the yurt on such a hot, breezeless day, but there was no choice. “Look at this,” I said, flicking a grasshopper as hard as I could from inside another screen before closing the window. I watched it land on the deck, facing me, and then shoot cannon-like right back to where it was before. “They’ve come to avenge the gazebo deaths! They’re eating their way through the yurt!”

“No way,” Chris said, looking at me with tired eyes. He’d been napping.

“Yes way! Look!” I pointed to the biggest breach.

“Man, I didn’t know they could eat through a screen,” Chris said, now more alert. “We’ll have to replace all of these with metal ones.”

“And what are we going to do in the meantime? They’re infiltrating!” All of a sudden, it didn’t seem farfetched that they might plan a synchronized attack and devour us as we slept. After all, we were outnumbered eighty billion to one.

“I don’t know,” Chris said with a heavy sigh. “Give peace a chance? At least they don’t bite or sting—although one did chew on my hand out there just now.”

IMG_2676It was a sad turn of events for Chris. For years he’d always looked forward to grasshopper season because it meant the pinnacle of fishing season. He took pleasure in watching speckled trout leap from the stream to steal the hopper from the hook. Now he says the sight

of a grasshopper fills him with “terror and revulsion.”

Nevertheless, later that night he set up the DVD screen inside the Clam for Outdoor Movie Night. The smell of sizzled grasshopper meat was gone, and we agreed that the only solution now was to ignore them (or eat them)—but not before Chris caught five in a mason jar to entertain Smokey and Bosworth. He said he didn’t feel bad about it after what they’d done to our screens. With the theme song of The Godfather haunting the cool evening air, Smokey stealthily approached the mason jar in the yurt, eyeing its contents like a mountain lion and patting the glass with his big, gray paw.

Above, the moonlight melted into the hazy sky, casting shadows across the meadow. And the grasshoppers, now dark dots on the gazebo walls and ceiling, waited motionless for the promise of tomorrow’s blistering sun. Our peace treaty tentatively in place, Chris and I reclined in our new zero-gravity lawn chairs, rackets in hand, knowing that Don Corleone—and Hitchcock too—would have appreciated the bloodshed of the day.

20090717234400a88P.S. Our builder’s condition is improving. He took a short walk in the hospital last week, and he is beginning to eat some solid food. Thank you all for your positive energy and prayers.

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  1. Wish I could have seen that grasshopper battle! Glad I can witness here how you and Chris make the very best of it. Love reading your posts as always! (p.s. No grasshoppers in Chicago. I think it’s time for a visit!)


  2. How long does grasshopper season last? I’m sure it seems interminable.


  3. I loved that the grasshoppers became a character all their own in this. Not just a few but a hoard capable of cognition and thought (scuttle the clam, invade the yurt, assault the humans). I found myself rooting for you, Chris and


  4. Monica-
    You are an amazing writer! You describe it so well! It reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “On the Banks of Plum Creek”. Unbelievable!!


  5. You have me frightened of those nasty creatures! It does feel like something out of Hitchcock. Wonderful description of the menace the grasshoppers embody. A far cry from the car horns and bus fumes here in New York City, but I think I might prefer the grasshoppers…


  6. Your gift for capturing the world in the pesky grasshopper is remarkable, as usual.


  7. I love this story as it made my morning enjoyable.


  8. Thanks for all the comments, everyone! It’s gratifying to share our horror stories with you. 🙂


  9. I’m just now getting to your blog. I’m longhairedcountryboy’s wife. Ever since he told me about your blog I’ve been engrossed in reading about your adventure. Grasshopper’s are one of life’s horrors. I did not realize they ate through screening either until they attacked our home the first year we lived here. It seems there is always a battle between man and nature. Keep your chin up… it is all that matters!


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