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Wednesday, 21 March 2012 12:14

Alternating between joy and gloom, grasshopper and ant

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Spring weather like we’ve been experiencing makes clear that we live in a world essentially comprised of two kinds of people.

There are those who bask in the sun and who glory in the profusion of flower blooms; these are our don’t-plan-for-the-future grasshoppers. Then we have our ever-grimly marching ants, those that live among us who maintain a killing freeze is certain to blacken and decimate this world of beauty. The ants are joy killers.

I’ve been both a grasshopper and an ant during different life stages.

These days I’m much more likely to manifest as a grasshopper and to gleefully cut daffodils and forsythia branches for the vase on my kitchen table. I give little thought about anything except my enjoyment in the beauty of these flowers. But goodness knows I’ve been a little ant during certain periods of my life. Quintin the fun-destroyer going about muttering dark prophesies about the future and secretly hoping that the irritating grasshoppers in my life shortly discover the bottom side of a shoe — squish, that’ll teach ‘em to enjoy a beautiful spring!

What I’ve not succeeded in mastering is the middle way, of being what we’ll dub an anthopper. That’s what I truly aspire to be. But combining the best qualities of these two insects, the grasshopper and the ant to create the newly fabled anthopper, is difficult given my all or nothing approach to life.

An anthopper, I think, would enjoy the cut flowers, the sun, the profusion of bloom, but would ensure she has protective covering for the garden nearby. An anthopper wouldn’t get suckered by the garden centers into buying annuals this early … though I did just that this past weekend.

An anthopper wouldn’t ruin others’ enjoyment of this beauty with augurs of toil and trouble, strife and destruction, of certain impending looming horrible excruciating doom — either via a late freeze or upcoming summer discomfort. I’ve heard some of these ants assert, completely unscientifically and based on nothing except that it sounds terrible and frightening, that a warm spring foretells a blazingly hot summer. Which, even if these horrors are actually true, doesn’t change this moment’s reality: We are enjoying one of our most lovely springs in recent memory.

•••

An anthopper story.

Once upon a time there was a grasshopper. The grasshopper fancied herself something of an operatic singer, and enjoyed singing, over and over, “Musetta’s Waltz” from Puccini’s “La Boheme.”

Meanwhile, an ant was hard at work collecting foodstuffs. The ant was certain the endtime was near, that an apocalyptic finale to the world was soon to come. She was equally sure that she’d be spared. So the ant spent a lot of time reading about self-sufficiency and practicing frugal ways.

It was very distracting to the ant to hear “Musetta’s Waltz” sung over and over again. Truth be told, the ant never had liked Puccini, and particularly detested “La Boheme,” and to top it off “Musetta’s Waltz” is unseemly and risqué and is an entirely inappropriate selection to be singing when everyone except that damned grasshopper knew perfectly well the world was going to hell.

So the grasshopper sang and the ant labored, hour after hour and day after day, under the beautiful sunlight of spring, summer and early fall. The ant’s hill, which was made up of dozens of tunnels leading to scores of storage rooms, was filled with dried and canned foods. The grasshopper barely even bothered with shelter — she simply went to sleep each night under a plant frond, something large enough to protect her from the dew, and ate the nectar from flowers during the day. Occasionally the grasshopper would consider putting back some food for the upcoming winter, but then she’d get caught up all over again in singing the waltz, and the thought would disappear like the morning fog when the sun rose.

The days grew noticeably shorter, and the night darkness rolled in earlier each evening. The ant was happy about this. ‘That’ll teach the grasshopper,’ she thought to herself grimly. ‘You just wait.’

One day the grasshopper awoke to a heavy killing frost. Her wings were stiff and cold. The grasshopper soon gave up attempts to sing. It felt like the words were frozen in her throat.

Meanwhile, the ant was watching. Her grand moment had come. The end of the world as the ant and grasshopper knew it had indeed arrived. The ant had six months worth of food to eat and a warm bed to lie in each night. As predicted, the grasshopper had nothing but death to anticipate.

But the ant felt a little uneasy — the grasshopper looked so sad, standing on a frosty grassblade rubbing her little hands together for warmth. And the world seemed so silent without the grasshopper’s trilling of “Musetta’s Waltz.”

Finally, almost against her will, the ant called out to the grasshopper and invited her into the shelter and to share her food. And thus was born the newly fabled anthopper, a being who can experience the middle way.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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