Don't fear the grasshopper

Insect infestation leads to spiritual journey

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— I had a bizarre experience this weekend that I would like to share with you.

I was pedaling my magenta colored Gary Fisher mountain bike west on Twentymile Road near Weston Oil on Saturday when large rain drops began splatting off my bike helmet and causing small explosions of dust on the pavement.

This would not have been remarkable except for the fact that I was riding my bicycle in brilliant sunshine.

And the story gets stranger still.

The raindrops were quite large. They looked like little puddles of liquid mercury maybe the size of nickels, as they caught the sun on their earthward trip.

And as they struck in the field across the road, they stirred up a large number of hyperactive grasshoppers.

I'm not talking about a couple hundred grasshoppers.

I'm not even talking about a couple thousand grasshoppers. I'm talking about clouds of grasshoppers, their wings clicking in the sunlight.

A veritable plague of locusts.

Entire rafts of grasshoppers took off through the air like squadrons of bombers dodging molten darts of mercury as if they were bursts of flak from an antiaircraft gun.

My jaw would have dropped, but I was immediately aware that opening my mouth would have resulted in the unwanted ingestion of insect protein.

There were grasshoppers clinging to my sunglasses and perching on my helmet.

I could feel the little barbules on their legs against my neck. Heck, I could hear their exoskeletons crunching beneath my tires.

I half expected the clipped tones of Rod Serling to announce my entry into the "Twilight Zone," and to promise I could look forward to an eternity of flicking grasshoppers off my bare legs.

I pedaled furiously for another quarter of a mile and suddenly emerged from the shower of giant raindrops and buzzing insects.

I stopped to catch my breath and reflect on what had just occurred.

There were two ways to look at it, I decided.

Western Man would pronounce: "Damn, it hasn't rained in this valley for seven weeks and when we finally get a few drops of moisture, it stirs up pestilence. Why did they ever ban DDT?"

Eastern Man, or perhaps Indigenous Man, would attach spiritual significance to the event I had just experienced.

"Great spirit, brother grasshopper has told me of your displeasure. Should I fast for 20 days until you send me a vision so I will know what your will is?"

I wasn't quite feeling like Western Man, but I wasn't eager to fast for 20 days either.

So I turned my bike around and rode back through town, threading my way through tourists waking three abreast on the Yampa River Core Trail.

"Excuse me, don't be startled, I'm going to sneak by on your left. Don't worry. There's plenty of room sort of."

I must have repeated myself 19 times.

The Yampa River Core Trail is very popular.

As I rode the six miles home, everything became clear to me. I had embarked upon a vision quest.

The unexpected horde of grasshoppers I had encountered symbolized tourists.

The magical rain that fell even as the sun shone brightly symbolized a ritual cleansing and a fresh start.

There was only one thing for me to do. I had to become a tourist myself.

Upon returning home, I begged my wife not to ask any questions, but to get into the mini van.

I raided the cookie jar and emerged from the house brandishing a fistful of cash.

We pointed the Windstar toward Denver, where we knew the final day of the Cherry Creek Arts Festival was still unfolding.

I was determined to learn what it is like to be a tourist, so that I might understand them afresh.

Turning off Colorado Boulevard onto Third Street, we neared Steele Street and a throng of humanity filing past white tents. We dismounted and joined the fray.

During two hours spent in one of Denver's poshest neighborhoods, we enjoyed the work of fabulously creative artists, consumed ethnic foods and were treated to free entertainment.

And then, in the midst of the never-ending stream of tourists, I spotted the oracle.

He was wearing shabby clothes and was pretending to beg for money.

"Tell me," I demanded. "Why do tourists tour?"

His reply: "Relax grasshopper. We are all tourists on this planet, and it has ever been thus. Give me a dollar."

Enlightened, we returned to the Yampa Valley to resume the tour.

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