It was sunny and warm so I carried my afternoon snack carefully through the house, heading for the shade of the east-facing front porch. “I know
it is cool out there”, said Mother, “but it is covered with grasshoppers. Do you want to go out?” I assured her that I did and that I liked grasshoppers “Mom, they are interesting.” Mother smiled and murmured something about not being surprised.
There were a lot of grasshoppers I noticed, as I crossed the porch and sat down on the first step after brushing several of my hopping friends out of my way. Doris and I enjoyed these little flying beasts who descended on us in waves from time to time. We had discovered that if we caught one and squeezed it carefully, the response was predictable. It would promptly spit out a dark, brown, sticky juice. We would release the first one and catch another. Same squeeze, same result – “Spitting tobacco juice” we called this behaviour.
Tobacco juice we knew about. The Danish enclave which formed our district, was comprised of many who came directly from “The Old Country” – Denmark. Cigar smoking was common among these new Canadians, but so was getting their nicotine another way, from chewing tobacco. As they worked around the farm, the hired men usually had a lump tucked in one cheek. They worked, they chewed, and they spat out brown tobacco juice. The old men sat in rocking chairs by the kitchen stoves watching life swirl around them, and chewed a wad of tobacco. Beside them were spittoons, jug-like affairs. Usually they were stationed on a spread of newspapers – to catch the errant streams of juice that missed the jug! Doris and I knew tobacco juice, and the grasshoppers spit certainly looked just like it.
Finishing my snack, I shifted my focus to catching a grasshopper, which was easy today and I soon had one — but what was this? The one was actually two and they were stuck together! In alarm, I called my mother to come quickly. She did, and I pointed out the problem saying “Something is wrong Mom – they are stuck and I can’t get them apart!” Her reaction was downright queer. At first she seemed not to know what to say. By this time I had noticed that there were many other “pairs” around, not just the one I found. Showing her this serious situation I asked with concern, “What should we do?”
The answer was swift and firm: “Put those grasshoppers down and get in the house.” “But Mom…” “NOW” she said in a tone that meant business and I obeyed. Once inside, in a quieter voice Mom said “Don’t worry, Marjie – the grasshoppers are just fine. They know what they are doing and
it will be alright. Now come to the kitchen and dry the dishes for me.” I followed her but bells were ringing for me. She had said much the same thing some days ago when I asked “Why are those mean roosters chasing the poor hens around and jumping on their backs?” The same matter-of-fact tone, the reassurance that all was well, and the swift diversion to another subject.
One year slipped into another. As I grew, the jigsaw pieces gradually filled in my picture of life. The farm was a good immersion course in the everyday realities of biology. The rhythm of life played out before one’s eyes. From cats to chickens, from horses to dogs, from the meadow larks to the mice in the hay, from grasshoppers to gophers it was the same. All paired off, produced offspring, and the river of life flowed on. With so many familiar players around us we gradually acquired reasonably correct knowledge of how all this happened. We also now understood Mom’s calm assurance when she said “Leave them alone. They know what they are doing and it will be alright.”
Where we hit a brick wall was when we tried to transfer our farmyard knowledge to ourselves and the adults we knew. By the time we were pre-teens we knew that people also paired into couples. Couples had children: so far so good. For some reason the jigsaw pieces in our human picture that would complete the picture and tell us how that happened were missing. No one talked about it except in the vaguest way – why?
The passing of the decades has greatly widened my understanding and deepened my sympathy for those I questioned. Non-human life has the easy course in the matter of sex as they do just what comes naturally. We human, thinking animals manage to consistently enrich, but also to complicate life. Assailed by so many factors – intellectual understanding, deep emotional feelings, social mores, cultural practices, religious teachings, we struggle to get our bearings. Add to that the intense and pleasurable drives, fuelled by evolutional survival needs, and the picture gets clouded. No wonder we find sex difficult to handle, impossible to ignore, and difficult to explain. What can be and should be one of life’s most satisfying pleasures often takes real effort to master.
So where does that leave us? Just where so many things are today in a world caught up in the midst of massive change. Be it political systems, human rights, religious beliefs, sexual behaviour, social mores or almost anything else one cares to mention, the world about us is awhirl in change. The pendulum of life is swinging madly from one extreme to another. Where and when it will settle down is anyone’s guess – and mine is that it could take decades, as it did in some of the great periods of change in history.
Let’s weasel out and return to just one of the above mentioned facets of life – sex. My short life has seen society move from a time when the word was not heard in polite company, much less discussed, to an era where it is used to sell cars, promote clothing lines, destroy politicians and cause religious wars. In the very same span we have moved from a time of harsh and crippling taboos to a growing acceptance of the rightness and beauty of mainstream sex and that of the many variant human sexual practices. Progress indeed!
Having tackled a topic far too large to be neatly tied up for closure, I have chosen to sign off by stating two things — the greatest disappointment I experience about the issues raised, and the greatest satisfaction I experience about these times.
Disappointment, that (as my mother would have said) there isn’t a “Hope in Hades” that I can live long enough see where the world is heading with this massive change, let alone know where the pendulum will settle down.
Satisfaction, that I am lucky enough to have lived to be part of this exhilarating, fascinating, and somewhat frightening time in history. I have high hopes that one future day humanity will, like my grasshoppers, look around and know what they are doing and that society is alright.
May it be so.