Stopped at a red light, a soft thump sounds once on my driver-side window. Perched at cheek level is a grasshopper, waxy green, suctioned to the glass. My eyes watch his, bulbous and protruding. Grasshoppers possess compound vision. Does he see me? Or do the spherical views of cracked asphalt, ditch grass and cloudless sky consume his optic sense?
Posture straight and wings tucked like tuxedo tails, the grasshopper on the other side of the glass captivates me. I marvel at the antennae swaying like a double-wanded conductor. Ever so slightly, his front legs bend; his body undulates, as if keeping time to a metronome.
Grasshoppers represent divergent meanings across cultures. In ancient Egypt, they equated to destruction. But in China, they signify fertility. To the Japanese, good luck. Symbologists say grasshoppers epitomize one’s inner voice and seeing one is encouragement to trust oneself. If the hopper is green, it indicates new beginnings.
I believe in signs; hidden messages from the universe.
Recently, at age 50, I began pursuing a goal I relinquished in my mid-twenties. I started classes for a master’s degree in writing. “You are writers now, right?” teachers ask. The rhetorical question sends my anxiety clamoring. Am I?
I don’t keep a daily journal. I don’t read as often as I imagine a writer should. I don’t even possess a firm hold on pacing or structure. But I do feel joy scribing thoughts to paper. Massage. Edit. Retool. I feel release. Followed by exasperation, inner monologues professing that I’m, oh, so unworthy of calling myself writer.
I know myself as mom, wife, daughter. For more than two decades, on official forms I check the box homemaker as occupation. As if my aspirations end within my family’s two-story, aluminum-sided house; as if my goals rest with clean counters and plump pillows.
The box I’ve wanted to check is Other, attaching a one-page, single-spaced explanation. To list accomplishments outside my home. To note lives touched outside my family’s. To justify myself. My value.
Grasshoppers jump only one direction: forward. Because of their musculature, they must implement a three-stage process to catapult themselves from place to place. Extending their back legs, they push against a surface, be it corn tassels, dirt or a car window. This characteristic is why the hopper is a sign to take a leap of faith towards a life change. But symbologists don’t take into account that if the insect is infected with parasitic worms, his bounding may be self-destructive. The worms instigate the grasshopper to leap into water, thus drowning.
The bug eyeballs me.
Waiting for the light to change, I’m soothed by my green companion’s languid rhythm as he rocks. Grasshoppers don’t experience the usual four-stage life cycle of most insects. As nymphs, buds stand in for wings. Hoppers molt, becoming larger and more adult-like each iteration. Their fifth and final molt brings fully developed wings and adulthood. The grasshopper on the other side of my window has metamorphosed.
Legs splayed, the hopper clings to my car avoiding a tumble to asphalt. Yet he conveys serenity, at home amidst city streets instead of the cornfields in which he belongs. In my own life, I don’t react peacefully to being caught between two worlds. In two years, my husband and I will be empty nesters. My young adult children still need me more than I anticipated. My aging parents remain independent, but we’re beginning to tread the marshy landscape of their diminishing health.
Within the confines of my Nissan, I can’t hear the grasshopper. Watching his legs adhered to my window, it’s clear he’s silent. Rubbing a hind leg against a wing, the insect sings. Communicates. Stridulation is the scientific name for the chirping sound created by grasshoppers. Both sexes stridulate, but the males’ intonations dominate. Is the insect seeking a mate? Offering warning? Sharing bounty? Depending on its purpose, the passion and pitch of the vibrato varies.
Some find the sound soothing. Not me. Perhaps it’s the pitch. Or that the calls occur in waves. As if one insect starts the litany and others join, like singing rounds, building to a cacophony of trills separated between measures by lulls. It’s not the swells of sound that dishearten me; it’s the starts and stops.
About the Author: Anne Gammon is currently working on her Master of Arts in Writing at Coastal Carolina University, where she served as Associate Nonfiction Editor of Waccamaw for the Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 issues. Originally from Nebraska, Anne lives in South Carolina with her family, including two dogs and two ferrets.