I have been at work the last couple of weeks drafting a chapter on 1877.  Yes, I just picked a year that might show changes afoot that advance the story I’m telling about the transformation of a landscape–to be precise, the drainage of a large wetland. I chose 1877 because I happened to learn that my great-great grandfather closed his blacksmith shop that year, at age 50. I figured there would be other reasons for doing so besides the toll on his body. 1877 turned out to be a good choice, but I won’t tell why here. That’s the story I’ve been drafting. You’ll have to wait for the book, which no one will be happier to see completed than its author.

One of the notable events of 1877 was the locust plague—an invasion of grasshoppers that crawled, flew, and wafted in on the wind as a drought spread from the west into my home territory in Southern Minnesota.  Anxiety about the crop-eating insects turned out to be worse than the damage they actually did in Freeborn County. Its many lakes and wetlands did not make a hospitable environment for grasshoppers.

Just a few minutes ago, I stepped out my front door to water the young oak tree in my boulevard, because a heat wave in August and September has brought drought conditions in 2013, too.  Clinging to the screen on my door was a creature like this one.

This photo, cropped and enlarged and framed, spent the summer hanging in the Westminster Gallery in downtown Minneapolis. It was taken by Maria Register, who snapped it because it was such a rare sighting, and because she thought the bug looked out of place. She called it a grasshopper and surmised it would be more at home in the grass, where its color would work as camouflage. She titled the photo “An Unlikely Beauty.” (The image here is a smudge compared to the framed photo.) A visitor to the photo exhibit said, however, that it was not a grasshopper but a locust, and that it was the same species of locust that wrought havoc on the plains and prairies in the 1870s. It likes the dirt.

So why did another of these rarities–or maybe the same one–turn up today, just as I completed my first full draft? Shall I take it as a talisman? Is it a warning or a sign of approval? Or shall I just blame its appearance on the drought that is compelling me to water my young tree?  I just went out to move the hose, and the insect was still there.


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