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​Hiroshima, Heroes He Mow

IT HAPPENS every time my neighbour’s riding lawnmower breaks down: the mini-savannah across the road, three empty, unfenced half-acre plots, which my neighbour normally keeps clean cut, bursts into a small jungle.

This week, the razor grass was taller than me and the crabgrass varied between knee- and neck-high.
And so in I went, on Wednesday, as I always do, to begin the taming of that jungle with my regular common or garden lawnmower.
You have to tilt the mower up on its back wheels, as if you’re popping a mower wheelie, for the first pass. A second pass of the mower, still on its own hind legs, gets the grass below the knee. Only the third pass feels remotely like mowing a lawn, rather than competing in a gruelling Survivor Samoa challenge.
Complete with eating live insects.
Grasshoppers fly out of the grass as you cut it, into your face, eyes, nose, mouth.
It was startling the first time this happened, a couple o’ years ago. David Attenborough might have got an episode of Planet Earth out of it: as the very tall grass gets chopped lower, the rate of grasshoppers shooting out rises proportionately. I usually swallow at least one every time, purely by accident, simply because of the numbers.
Our overgrown mini-savannah is a grasshopper paradise, the small insect equivalent of New York City: teeming populations living large off the fat of the land.
But every pass of my lawnmower took away more of their territory.
And exposed creatures spoilt by their equivalent of decades of peace and prosperity to sudden terror and risk.
Birds were swooping down from the skies. We hear lawn mowers; they hear dinner bells.
First, there was one. Then two. Then four landed at once.
By the time I looked around, there were dozens of birds in or hovering above the savannah.
It was like that playground scene from the Alfred Hitchcock film.
And, when they dropped from the skies, every single one landed directly on a grasshopper.
Or, worse, half-a-grasshopper, the front end of the insect in its death throes, severed from its back end by my mower blade.
It was buffet for birds. Scores, now, feeding on the swarming population of refugees I’d created, the unplanned side effect of the neighbourhood children needing to kick a football around.
From the lawnmower handles, it was like watching a time-lapse camera recording of the deforestation of the Amazon.
Strip after strip peeled away, the land literally laid bare, the plump little lords of all they had hitherto surveyed now served up as lunch.
And it got progressively worse for them.
You have to mow the high grass in rectangles, from the outside, in, so that the cut grass spews away from, not into, the next section to be cut.
The rectangle of tall growth gets smaller and smaller.
The grass had sprung up rapidly over the last three weeks, but it hadn’t been cut at all for probably six or seven. They eat where they live, grasshoppers, and thrive on a diet of grass. For almost two months, then, this half-hectare-plus megalopolis, the grasshopper Sao Paulo of St Philip, had been a safe harbour for an always burgeoning population that had never known attack in any form.
And I was cutting away this great civilisation from its outer perimeters, inwards.
Their great city was reduced, bit by bit, block by block, from tennis court-size to squash court-size, to table-tennis board-size.
And then to nothing at all.
And always to the accompaniment of an unceasing din and a reverberation that must have filled them with terror, just like how the B-52s over Baghdad or Berlin, Nagasaki or Hiroshima must have transformed the citizen into the creature, the sophisticate into the screamer.
Did they, I wondered, beg their god for mercy, the way our believers today beseech theirs to take away the pandemic? Was I their Lord? Or their Devil?
The bewildered grasshoppers continually retreated backwards into whatever was left of their territory with each pass of my mower, like the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II.
They, too, could never reach safety.
And so I obliterated, once again, casually, though never thoughtlessly, a great city of living beings who had never done anyone but broad-leaf plants any harm.
The birds flew away before I was even halfway done, stuffed to the very ends of their digestive tracts.
Everyone else died for no firetrucking reason at all.
That’s life.
From my desk, now, I watch the neighbourhood children playing on the savannah across the street.
Their cries of pure joy float upwards, through my open windows.
If they ever form a football team, those happy little ones, I’m going to suggest they call it The Grasshoppers.

BC Pires is the insect equivalent of an extinction level event

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