An ant and a grasshopper were in a summer meadow. The ant was very hardworking, constantly searching for seeds and dragging them back to his nest, where he put them under the care of his trusted financial advisor, a centipede. The grasshopper, however, spent most of his time bouncing around the sunny grass-blades and happily singing. The ant noticed this and said to the grasshopper, “You’re having a good time now, but when summer’s over, you’ll be sorry!” The grasshopper just grinned and did a silly little dance and said, “I don’t care!” The ant shook his head and went back to his hard labours.
In time, as predicted by the ant, the warmth of summer faded from the land, to be replaced by a cruel coldness. Plants stopped growing leaves and seeds. The ant saw the grasshopper standing on a fallen leaf, shivering and looking at some dark clouds approaching. The ant said, “You don’t seem so jolly anymore! Should have planned ahead for this day!”
The self-satisfied ant went into his nest — only to find, with shock, it was empty of food. Everything had been stolen by the centipede financial advisor, who was long gone.
A chilly wind wailed from the North.
The ant crawled around the meadow, moaning, “No food! I’m going to die!” And the nearby grasshopper said, smiling, “Me too — but at least I had a good time first.”
When the ant starved to death, he was still frowning. The dead grasshopper is still smiling.
Yesterday, my middle son and his friend came back from a nearby forested ravine. They each had little aquarium nets and plastic bags full of something. On our hot, sun-soaked back porch, they showed their catch to me and the youngest son. The bags were full of crayfish! We had this old plastic insect cage — which I always called “Bug Alcatraz” — lying around the jungle-like back yard, so I dumped the sticks and junk out of it and we poured the plastic bags of creek water into the plastic box.
There were lots of them! At least seven! They excitedly zipped around backwards, in the shallow dirty water. They looked like brown lobsters, except the size of a Bluetooth earpiece. They had antennae and wimpy-looking claws. We put in some rocks for them to hide under.
“I’m so proud of my mighty hunters,” I said.
“Yay!” said my middle guy.
I realized that there wasn’t enough water for the crayfish to swim properly, so I got some plastic water containers from the kitchen (which I’m technically not supposed to use for nature experiments, so don’t tell my wife about this) and I sent the two older boys back to the ravine, to get more creek water.
Leaving the youngest guy on the back porch to “guard” the trapped crayfish, I went inside and looked at my bookshelf. There was nothing there about what crayfish eat. There was nothing, believe it or not, about crayfish at all. Just a bunch of Hemingway and Atwood and Wilde and Dostoyevsky — all of it useless!
So I went to the internet and summoned the search genie and typed, “OH GREAT GOOGLE, WHAT DO CRAYFISH EAT?”
Google replied with a list of sponsored advertising links: “Purina Crustacean Chow — 75% off!” and “Try Our Certified Organic Craw-Daddy Feed,” etc.
After that, there were the non-commercial links, where I learned that crayfish like to eat fish.
We had some sardines in a Tupperware container in the fridge. I’d opened the can over a week ago and was planning to throw it out. So I forked out a chunk and put it into the crayfish cage. Only then did I realize that sardines are kind of smelly. The sardine oil spread on the surface, like a salad dressing. Oh well, the crayfish probably won’t mind. The oils might even be good for them, like the beauty oils at Shoppers Drug Mart; giving the shells of the crayfish a smooth, sexy shine.
The other two kids came back from the ravine with more creek water, which we poured in. Then we put in some rocks, for hiding under.
“I think they’ll be more comfortable in there now,” my son’s friend said. He lived in a nearby apartment building and had never done this kind of stuff before visiting us. He always went home with dirty shoes and dirty clothes and dirty hands and a dirty, smiling face. The first time his mom picked him up, she’d barely recognized the mud-caked Swamp Thing in our front hall as her son.
(My parenting philosophy: yes to filth and adventure, no to technology and coddling.)
So, we watched the crayfish for a while, then the boys wanted to play ball-hockey in front of the house. They left me alone with the crayfish and I realized that it was too hot on the porch for them, being used to a cool stream. I took the container into the back yard, between a gooseberry bush and some nodding golden flowers my wife had planted a year or two ago.
Blind to the danger, I left the crayfish there overnight.
The next day, before breakfast, I took my two youngest outside to check up on the crustacean prisoners. We were planning to release them in a different creek, one that did not have any crayfish in it yet. We planned to pioneer a brand new population!
However, all the crayfish in the box were gone. There was just some water and rocks. The piece of sardine was gone too.
“I knew the raccoons would get them,” my middle son said.
It was true. Last night, when I’d told him where I’d put the crayfish, he’d said something about raccoons eating them. I’d pooh-poohed his fears, being too lazy to go outside in the middle of the night to move a plastic box full of muddy water and crayfish from under a bush to — to where? Where would they have been safe from raccoons? Those sneaky masked criminals can break into garbage cans at will, so how could a lightweight plastic box stop them? The only 100% protection would be to bring them inside. But my wife might have criticized me for doing that. So I’d ignored my son’s prescient warning – just as the King of the ancient Trojans had ignored Cassandra’s warning that the Greeks were on their way to burn Troy to the ground – and I left the crayfish outside. Which led to this slaughter, this massacre, alas.
Neither of my sons accused me of having innocent crayfish blood on my hands. (And, in my defense, let me say that if crayfish blood was on anybody’s hands, it would be on the hands of those marauding raccoons. And who’s to say just how innocent those eaten crayfish really were?)
To make up for my negligence, I promised to take my sons back into the urban forest soon, to catch more. But first I had other things to do, including writing this for urbanicity.
Now I can almost hear the crayfish, calling: “Come! Catch us if you can!” and “The wild world is the real world – all else is illusion!”
Soon, I’ll reply, “Okay, crayfish, we’re on our way!”
Then I’ll tell the boys to put on their rubber boots and to get their crayfish nets and then to meet me on the back porch – mighty hunters, ready for adventure…
This article started with a parable about summer I wrote recently; so let’s end it with a poem about summer I wrote a long time ago:
in a summer garden heavy with grapes
and the songs of hidden insects,
leaves are tongues,
licking the ripened day.
Lay your body down here,
rest on this warm soil
and berries will fill your heart,
as your garden fills with summer