Friday, October 2, 2009

The other Gallery Walks

More Small Potatoes


The other Gallery Walks—one in spring, one in fall—are never listed in upcoming events calendars, though they have more viewers than all the rest combined.

My favorite is the spring walk, the one featuring worms. The opening date isn't fixed—it begins with the start of the spring rains and ends when they're over. Hundreds, probably thousands, are in the show, all of them having escaped underground drowning only to find themselves stranded on rapidly drying bike paths.

Worms bring to the fore my all-life-is-dear persuasion that would be Dali Lama noble if I could be steadfast about it. At least where worms are concerned I'm never on the fence, and I've owned up to it in earlier columns. When I brought the worms' plight to light, more than a handful of like-minded worm worriers came right up, touched me lightly on the arm, looked me in my eyes and confessed that they, as well, feel compelled to stoop and slip a slender twig under the mid-section of a stranded wriggler and toss it to safety. We admitted we occasionally tried to pluck them twixt thumb and forefinger, and we agreed it's nearly impossible to get hold of an itty-bitty worm likely in its first encounter with the upper world. Whichever method we used to defer mummification, we'd gently toss it alongside the path where it could burrow, live its full span and continue its good work for our planet.

About the other other walk, the fall one—I've been leery about reviewing it because it features grasshoppers. I don't put grasshoppers on a par with worms—worms are do-gooders, hoppers are not. A hopper's sole life purpose is to get to the nearest south 40 and chomp all things green down to the nub. But I've had no hands-on experience with south 40s, so the first word that comes to mind when I see a hopper isn't predator—no more so than predator would be my first thought if I ever saw a real-life wolf loping on a hillside or, better, poised on a skyline, its uplifted head about to loose a howl, and I asked myself—What the hey? Don't fret about it—give it a go.

So, early this fall as I biked to Hailey, I'd spun only a few revs onto the l-o-n-g, straight stretch just before town. It's a stretch where soothing scenic pleasures don't constantly unfold right alongside, so I focused instead on the leaping masses of grasshoppers in front, aft and all around me. I wouldn't have noticed them if I hadn't been in a receptive mood, which I was on that stretch that I call I-84.

When grasshoppers are ready for a break they head for a bike path. I figure the hard surface adds zing to a take-off, and on this day the path was practically a moving carpet of little ones, big ones, brown ones, green ones—even a trophy red one likely hatched under a ready-to-harvest patch of beets. With all those hoppers, many landed only inches from my fast-closing wheels and the thought of actually squashing one was so repellant, so awful to contemplate the feel, and maybe even sound, that I stayed at the ready to fast-twitch left or fast twitch right should the hopper give me a clue about its escape plan. But hoppers don't offer clues. They somehow sense impending doom. (Extra keen eyesight? Subtle airflow variations? Vibrations too light to jiggle us?) Whatever, they almost always save themselves. Just as my wheel would be about to close on one, it'd quick-flip 180 degrees and hop or wing its way to safety. Some even zipped between that only-for-an-instant space between my tires. Bigger hoppers, elders, could predetermine if I'd miss them by at least a length—they'd shift a leg or two, face me, then sit-stay—same as we stand-stay if we figure an approaching rig will miss us by a body length or two.

I'm pleased to say I squashed only a few hoppers during this fall's walk. I think it's OK to be pleased. Most of the hopers' south 40 habitats have become strip malls or Walmarts, or an Archer Daniels Midland project bound to be another catastrophic land-use disaster.

I don't think there are enough farmers left—real farmers on real south 40s—to morph into angry tea parties that march on Washington waving posters starring me that CNN can use to make hay—not horse hay—for days or weeks.

Betty Bell lives in Ketchum.

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