The Grasshopper Bests the Ant

Oct 25, 2013

Credit Amy Bennett Williams

News-Press storyteller Amy Bennett Williams is a good at doing what many of do procrastinating. And sometimes, it has its rewards.

The fable about the ant and the grasshopper has always made me wince. I can just see old Aesop raising one eyebrow to give me a pointed glance as he tells of the industrious ant, busily stockpiling food for the winter, while the grasshopper sings away the sweet days of summer.

By the time the starving grasshopper is begging for help while the ant scolds it for its sloth, the fabulist is wagging an accusatory finger as I cringe, hissing out his moral: Idleness brings want.

I know, we should have been trimming the oaks, tightening the fence, cleaning the gutters, hanging the laundry, bathing the dogs, pulling the Caesar weeds, washing the jalousies or gathering eggs, but we're nothing if not inveterate, veteran, venerable procrastinators.

And it was a spectacular Sunday, with crystalline skies washed clean by the previous night's storm and breezes bearing the first slash pine-scented whispers of fall. Besides, with his big brother away for the day and his chore-minded parents engaged in mind-dullingly boring pursuits, 10-year-old Nash was just itching to get out and go somewhere.

So when he appeared in full explorer regalia — collecting jar carabiner-clipped to his belt, multi-pocketed vest equipped with compass, canteen and Swiss Army knife — we did what any right-minded hedonists would do: We piled into the car and headed for the woods.

The woods currently in the greatest favor are north of us over the river, mostly because we discovered just months ago that they're ours (well, as taxpaying citizens of Lee County). The 1,700 acres that were once the Argo Ranch now belong to us all, courtesy of the Conservation 20/20 program, which bought it in 2008 for $23.9 million from a developer who'd planned a couple hundred houses.

Now, it sprawls in empty emerald splendor along S.R. 78, quietly pushing up palmettos and collecting summer rain in vast, shallow ponds that flow slowly southward. Past the old white barn, through the now-overgrown pasture, the wet prairie begins, first ankle- then knee-deep.

Sun-spangled and tannin-stained the color of tupelo honey, the water was so sky-clear we could see the stirrings and skirrings of tiny critters going about their afternoon business. Tadpoles vacuumed submerged sedge stems; gambusia scattered at our shadows; water beetles whirled and spiraled along the surface.

Then Nash froze as a brown shape bucked its way along the water's edge. "A crayfish," he whispered. As we stood motionless, we saw others patrolling the shallows ahead. Though the crustaceans and their squiggly spoil piles were a happy fixture of my Midwestern youth, this was only the second time Nash had ever seen one and he was eager for a closer look.

Reaching for his jar like a gunslinger, he lowered himself into a slow-motion crouch as we parents held our breath. He pounced, came up empty-handed, collected himself and crept forward. He got one on his third lunge, brought it up in cupped hands he opened to reveal his catch, which had curled itself into a pecan-sized comma.

Nash held perfectly still as the creature unfurled its threadlike antennae, raised its gleaming eyes and lifted one little pincer in miniature threat. The moment of detente passed, it tail-flipped out of Nash's hand and back into the water, where it vanished into the mud.

And we made our way back home too — a trio of happy, foolish grasshoppers.