"Mmm hmm," intoned Big Ed Lieberman, "it's been a good year for some things, an' it's been a bad year for others." To pontificate, as always, Ed spat on the ground to the outside of Sherriff Joe Bauer's left boot. "It's been a bad year for wheat, but it's been a good year for bugs."
The sheriff grimaced and nodded, raising that left boot to hook its heel onto one of Pete Scafflau's wooden fence rails. Striking what he thought must be a rustic pose, he leaned forward over the knee to rest his elbows there, and he chewed a stalk of winter wheat that he had plucked from the overgrown fence line. He replied, "I guess it's been a good year for bug killers, too."
Big Ed leaned against a fence post, imitating the sheriff by resting his elbows there, though he was much too large and fat to hook a boot heel over the rail, like the wiry sheriff. Again, the exterminator spat to one side, saying, "Yeah, I guess so. Can't say as I can complain much, but old Pete Scafflau probably wishes he had called me sooner than he did."
Both men turned their head to examine endless acres of Pete's grain fields, which once rolled with fat, heavy heads of wheat. Now, only stubble and chaff remained. If they didn't known better, both men might think someone had come along in the night to harvest the seed with a big combine, so neat and thorough was the job. Nothing, not a single stalk remained, save for the random shoot grown up along the fence posts where the two of them stood, awed by the sight.
"I guess he does," responded Sheriff Bauer eventually. "I guess he does at that."
Now the lawman raised his gaze to examine the clouds churning high overhead. Though it was near noon and warm for the first week of March, they could not see the sun. Big Ed followed his attention to examine the sky for himself. He shook his head when the sheriff shook his head, too.
"Mmm hmm," he intoned forebodingly. "It's goin' to rain again, I guess."
"It's been a wet year."
"Too wet," agreed Big Ed. "That's the problem. The way I see it," intoned the exterminator, drawing upon an endless store of experience and lay education, "you take a record harvest like we had last year, then you add in a warm winter without a good, solid freeze, and then you add in a warm, wet spring with fields overgrown by another record winter harvest, and you got yourself one fine mess. It's like that, you know. Them bugs, they got ways of nature that's meant to capitalize on such conditions. A single female 'hopper can lay thousands of tiny, little eggs. Each egg, hatched days later, can produce thousands more. If they don't burn up in the blazing heat of summer, if they don't freeze solid in the depths of winter, if they hatch out an' hatch out an' hatch out like that all year long, well, then, you get thousands times thousands times thousands of new 'hoppers, 'till the birds an' frogs an' spiders can't eat 'em all… well, then, Sheriff, you get this here sort o' deal. It's a plague, that's what it is."
"Mmm hmm," agreed Big Ed laconically, spitting to the ground once more. "Yep. It's Biblical, alright."
"So you really think grasshoppers did all this in a single night?"
"No, not in a single night," returned the exterminator, scratching himself obscenely. "But even Pete, himself, said he was gone to the lake over the weekend. They might have done it in a day or two, easy. You know, we call 'em 'grasshoppers', Sheriff, but the rest of the world calls 'em 'locusts'. What we call 'locusts', here in Pecan Groves, Texas, most folks outside of Texas call 'cicadas'. They ain't the same sort o' animal, you know, not at all."
"No, sir. See, them big, fat, green cicadas, they live in the ground as grubs for 'bout seventeen years, eatin' roots and humus and what not, 'till they figure it's time to get on with the next generation. Then they climb a tree trunk somewhere, shed their skin and fly away. After they change that away (we calls it 'metamorphosin') they become the chatter bugs that keep us awake all summer long."
Sheriff Bauer grunted and shook his head. "I didn't know."
"Mmm hmm," continued Big Ed, backing away from the fence post and slowly moving along the fence line, his body language indicating that the lawman should follow. As he walked, he continued his lesson in bugs, saying, "And them bugs we call 'grasshoppers', well they live a whole 'nother way. See, they's ferocious hungry right from birth, and they come out fully formed, all ready to eat an' jump an' fly an' mate. An' that's all they do, too, they eat an' jump an' fly an' mate… eat an' jump an' fly an' mate… so the only thing keepin' us from waded 'hoppers up to our chins is the fact that they's so damn tasty to hun'eds of hungry critters like sparrows an' frogs an' spiders an' such. So momma 'hopper, what she's gotta do, if she lives long enough, is lay thousan's and thousan's of eggs at a time, so even if nine-thousan'-nine-hun'ed-ninety-nine of her babies gets eaten, well then that leaves the one lone survivor to carry on the fam'ly name."
"That makes sense," agreed the sheriff, following Big Ed along the fence line, kicking through the Johnson grass that grew to shoulder height already, so early in the year. He noted how nothing seemed to touch those razor sharp stalks for food.
"Mmm hmm," continued the exterminator, swishing the weeds back and forth with his boots, searching for something on the ground, "but, like I said, it's been a good year for some things, an' a bad year for others. Notice the skies, Sheriff. You don't see nary a sparrow flyin'. Listen at the ponds come evenin' time. You don't hear nary a frog callin' for a lover. Watch the eaves and soffits of your own house. You don't count nary a spider's web. Where'd they all go?"
Now Big Ed paused to stoop with a grunt, adding, "I'll tell you where they went. Last year was a warm, wet year, the same way this one skulls out to be. Only, the year before that was a hard one. We had scarcely a drop of rain. Nobody got much corn out of the summer, and not even the weeds were growin' like they usually do. So-," he grunted again, standing once more to the crackle and pop of his knees, "you take a bad year for predators and add to it two good years for bugs, an' this is what you get. See here?"