[This is part of the series: A List of Things I Remember About Living In Saudi Arabia.]
I remember the locust.
You know that Bible story about Moses, Pharaoh, and the plagues of Egypt?
Well, outside of the plagues, the seasonal movement of locust is an actual thing.
Most every year during a certain season, tens of thousands of locust would descend on us.
They look just like a grasshopper, but are about the size of a mouse.
Sure you can act all tough, but as soon as one jumps on your chest, or lands in your hair, you flail like a two-year old screaming for their mother.
I remember being hesitant to leave the house for fear of stepping on them.
Eventually, you have to get over it and press on with the day though.
So much so, I remember riding my bike to school and hearing them crunch under my tires.
Others ate them, but that is a different story.
I never thought much more about locust, until I recently stumbled on a passage by Annie Dillard in her classic book Pilgrim At Tinker Creek.
And who knew!
A locust is nothing but a grasshopper under stress:
“I had been reading about locusts. Hordes of migrating locusts have always appeared in arid countries, and then disappeared as suddenly as they had come. You could actually watch them lay eggs all over a plain, and the next year there would be no locusts on the plain. Entomologists would label their specimens, study their structure, and never find a single one that was alive—until years later they would be overrun again. No one knew in what caves or clouds the locusts hid between plagues. In 1921 a Russian naturalist named Uvarov solved the mystery. Locusts are grasshoppers: they are the same animal. Swarms of locusts are ordinary grasshoppers gone berserk. If you take ordinary grasshoppers of any of several species from any of a number of the world’s dry regions—including the Rocky Mountains—and rear them in glass jars under crowded conditions, they go into the migratory phase. That is, they turn into locusts. They literally and physically change from Jekyll to Hyde before your eyes. They will even change, all alone in their jars, if you stimulate them by a rapid succession of artificial touches. Imperceptibly at first, their wings and wing-covers elongate. Their drab color heightens, then saturates more and more, until it locks at the hysterical locust yellows and pinks. Stripes and dots appear on the wing-covers; these deepen to a glittering black. They lay more egg-pods than grasshoppers. They are restless, excitable, voracious. You now have jars full of plague. Under ordinary conditions, inside the laboratory and out in the deserts, the eggs laid by these locusts produce ordinary solitary grasshoppers. Only under special conditions—such as droughts that herd them together in crowds near available food—do the grasshoppers change. They shun food and shelter and seek only the jostle and clack of their kind. Their ranks swell; the valleys teem. One fine day they take to the air. In full flight their millions can blacken the sky for nine hours, and when they land, it’s every man to your tents, O Israel. “A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.””