Robins, Sparrows and Cardinals twittered and fluttered in the hazy air. The yards were covered with dandelions as armies of ants swarmed in melee over cracks in the sidewalk. The linked fingers of elm let bits of blue through their leaves. Our mosaic of summer. At dusk, the Katydids, crickets and Cicadas would buzz symphonic melody for the dance of the fireflies. This was hunting time and our neighborhood demanded frivolous competition. Our jars and coffee cans sat on stoops and the cement curbs, while we ran to the last flicker, using the light of dusk and keen eyes to find the hum of beating wings.
Our race to the spot would end in an abrupt halt, elbows close to sides and hands in front semi-cupped, ready. Our bodies would pivot like turrets, while our sites honed in on the prey. When the mini hummingbird flashed again, some would snatch it out of the air in swift motion without regard for the beast, I would carefully cup my hands around them like a handshake, until I could feel the tiny legs tickle my palms. Upon capture, we would rush back to our containers, allowing assistance in opening the lids of poked holes, careful not to allow the escape of our bounty.
The younger kids would steal the prey to be their own. Bringing them inside to colorful rooms to be a natural night light. Finding disappointment in the morning, the beetle dead on the nightstand. A watched firefly will never light.
Teenagers would smack the beasts with wiffle bats watching the spray of yellow light like fireworks. We pleaded with them to stop the slaughter, until they decided we would be better targets. They would wait until we were out of sight of the adults, chase us and hit us in the calves with the bats. This put an end to our outcries of justice.
When dusk wore into dark, and the streetlights illuminated, we would be allowed a few extra minutes to chase the moon down the street and count the bugs before releasing them into the night air. Then retreat to rest in our soft beds with fans blowing our tan bodies over crisp, wind dried sheets. I would secretly wash only one hand as I readied for bed, the other I would hold close to my face as the dreams came to smell the acrid pheromone scent of the bugs.
Thundering up the six wooden stairs, crashing through the front door, the spirit of my youth cries. It sounds like gurgled singing. The adult tells me to slow down and take a deep breath between the hiccuped sighs. Slowing down, I would open the fridge and grab the carton of milk, folding the cardboard out into a symmetric rhombus, tip the sloshing container to my lips and gulp down the cow juice. The aftertaste lingered with flat film, sickeningly quenching.
I had been collecting slugs in the gangway on the side of our home. The narrow corridor consisted of a sidewalk eighteen inches wide and a thin strip of ground in the shadow of the next home. Our strip of dirt was filled with lily of the valley and the remnants of a long broken up concrete patio. The rocks were prime shelters for the slugs, worms and various damp insects. We would pry them up to find a scramble of millipedes and worms. The tunnles of the worms were like small canals. Roly-poly bugs would curl into small gray balls as our excited fingers would snatch the beasts into our world. The millipedes sprang into spiral infinity and centipedes scurried away under the long thin invisible limbs of the grand spider; daddy long legs. The slugs were easy prey; their shell less bodies would stick in their slime to the underside of the stones. I had captured many and they were moving on the sides of the smooth glass mason jar. Sticks and grass and a bit of water completed the biosphere. How did they move?
Smacking my lips and returning the milk carton to the cool breeze of the refrigerator, the shrieks of the girls wafted through the screen door. I rushed outside. Our arch rivals were across the street in Ms. Carlson's yard. Ms.Carlson was an old lady by my standards and someone to avoid. More than once she had phoned my mother to inform her that I was peeing on the front tree. She lived in a small white stucco house with a small overgrown yard. I Bounded across the street. Four girls were on their knees screeching.
"What's going on?" I shouted.
"Grasshoppers, see?" My friends younger sister held an opaque sherbet container in front of my eyes. Mini one-inch grasshoppers were pinging the plastic lid and sides.
"They're millions of them."
Sure enough. Above the tips of the brown grass, grasshoppers were scurrying away from the rustle of Keds chasing them. I ran over to Chris' house and stormed inside. Our homes were open territory, and identical. He was sitting at the kitchen table eating one of his famous, peanut butter, cheese, mustard and pepperoni sandwiches.
"C'mon I shouted, there are a ton of grasshoppers in Ms. Carlsons' yard." We rushed out, Chris smashing the rest of his sandwich into his mouth. His bare feet slapped the street as we ran. The girls were walking away holding the container in front of them admiring their catch.
"They're all gone. And even if they weren't, you would never catch as many as us", said their leader Erin as they walked down the street.
We were sharply disappointed, and in vain we captured a few of the tiny beasts, but the jar was already occupied by the slugs, so we let them go, promising to get up early for the catch tomorrow.
Laying in the grass, Chris suddenly jumped to his feet and dove into the grass.
"Quick," He yelled, "Go get a jar, I got a big one!"
I dumped the slugs, shaking the jar and ran back across the street. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the looming Shwinn and the curly red hair of Tim Dooley, who lived three blocks away and was three years our senior. The last time we ran into him he gave me an undie grundy and hung me from a tree while Chris tried in vain to defend himself. Chris had a giant grasshopper, a grandaddy! As I held the jar close to his cupped hands, Tim Dooley crashed over the curb.
"What you got there gaywads?" He asked, hopping off his bike and pushing into Chris.
Chris was tough, but Tim Dooley had clobbered him the last time they fought. "A grasshopper, now shove off before my brother comes over and kicks your ass."
Tim stepped over and kicked Chris' hands and stepped on the grasshopper. Chris' brother Steve and his cronies rounded the corner. They would beat the crap out of Chris and I, but didn't tolerate anyone else doing so. Tim knew they would kick his ass and he hopped on the banana seat and took off.
Chris and I looked at the crippled bug. One leg was entirely broken off, and it was haphazardly hopping in a circle. It was pea green and muscular, even with its disability. Chris moved it from the sidewalk and into the grass.
"Let's go before Steve gets here." I picked up the empty jar and we walked away.