Meanwhile, I’ve been killing grasshoppers. It’s a messy business, best handled by chickens, but I’m not quite ready for chickens. Grasshopper eyes are big and hard to ignore, like a baby’s, or a chihuahua’s. Their bodies are a beautiful vibrant green, or pinstriped, or rusty red. They wiggle their antennae when I approach, indicating I’m not sure what, but I certainly understand from their attention to the situation that they are sentient beings. They are full-bodied, even the little ones. They don’t squash easily so that’s a method I can’t bring myself to use. I catch them in a bug net and drown them, and even then I frown and turn away as they wiggle and seem to fight for life. I squashed one in the drowning bucket today simply because it kept surviving. It found a blade of grass and rode that like a life raft. It swam back and forth in the bucket like a dog chasing a ball. I killed it in fury and in doing so crossed a line I hadn’t known was there.
It’s easy to kill in a rage. I wanted that animal dead so it would stop devouring my young red twig dogwoods. I wanted it dead so it wouldn’t move on to my cucumbers and scarlet runner beans. I justified its death and the death of all the rest of them. This creature is taking life, so I’ll take its life. An eye for an eye. Tip for tap. But add fury, rage, anger to it and the game changes.
To kill that obdurate grasshopper, or any grasshopper, force is required. As I said, their bodies are firm and the older ones are downright armored. Which is why I chose drowning. It seemed both effective and once-removed from the killing process itself. But when the stubborn one didn’t drown and didn’t drown and didn’t drown, I gritted my teeth, literally, and moved into a different gear. You’re making me have to kill you with my own hands, I thought, and this resentment led to a brief swat of irritation, then moved quickly into anger. It took no time at all to dump that anger on the creature whose instinct for life was at least as robust as mine. I pinned it to the side of the bucket with a stick. My jaw ached and I could feel the ugliness rising in my chest, and suddenly I didn’t know myself. I was in an altered state for just a moment, but a moment out of proportion to the very small size of the creature whose life I was taking.
And what is the size of a life? We think we can kill an acre of grasshoppers more easily than a herd of horses. We think we can kill a herd of horses more easily than squeezing the life out of one man. But for me, in that moment of anger, the hierarchy of life held no meaning whatsoever. I was utterly without protocol, pushing my hands through a curtain made of feeble human gestures, in order to complete a job I had begun. I was blind to what I was actually doing, and the anger made possible—and just—the taking not only of this life, but any.