©Photo by Oma Liz 2003
Unexpected incidents intrude into the fabric of my life and often give me pause to mull the situation. I am not bellyaching. Actually, I really adore how these incidents have spiced my existence over the decades. Sometimes, too, when life seems very bleak, an unexpected incident comes around to cheer my heart.
Just before the July 4th holiday in 1998, a close friend in Phoenix, where we both lived, died unexpectedly. Louise and I were close. “At least,” I thought at one low point, “she suffered very little and went quietly, lifted up, I am convinced, by flights of celebrating angels who bore her up to her welcoming Lord.”
My grief was numbing. For a summer adventure, we had been planning a trip in the latter part of July to visit the alien hangouts of Roswell, New Mexico. “Louise, it may the July 4th holiday weekend,” I said, before going to the funeral Friday morning, “however, you and I are going to Roswell right after this nonsense. I’ll drive and you fly.” I faintly heard an approving chuckle.
Quickly, a few minutes before leaving for the services, I went out to my pickup truck, threw my gear into, onto, and all over the front of the cab, then attended the funeral. By 11:00 a.m. I was underway. July 4th weekend is not an ideal travel situation, so I decided to avoid the freeways and use the isolated byways of northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico as my passageway. It would be a scenic, nine to ten hour trip.
As I wended my way north and east, I congratulated myself on my choice. Glimpses of major roadways showed massive traffic jams. Eventually, six hours later, I made it to Arizona’s northeast corner district and was soon on a two lane highway. It was almost deserted. As the road wound its way to 8000 feet above sea level, there were no cars in my lane. An occasional oncoming car would flash its lights at me in the oncoming gloom of an approaching storm, shadows cast by high mountains, and the uncoming dusk. Arizona doesn’t have Daylight Savings Time, so dusk comes early.
My spirits started to lift, and I floored the accelerator. Well, no, I mused, eighty five mph is too fast, so, reluctantly I locked cruise control onto seventy. A minute or so later, I passed a single black sedan and, carried by the wind, continued on my way, talking to Louise and feeling her healing love.
Several minutes, later, red and blue lights flashed on behind me. It was a trooper in a plain car. I pulled over, and two officers strolled over. One was male, about six foot eight. The other was female, about five foot five. I didn’t smile at what I saw. They might misunderstand. They said little. He asked for my paperwork, went to call me in from his car, while his partner stayed next to me. Eventually he strolled back. Mutt and Jeff, I thought. Abbott and Costello. I smiled at them.
“How fast were you just going, Ms. Anderson?”
““You better give me the ticket. I was doing more than seventy. I’m sorry.”
“You whizzed past us at 73.”
Wait a minute, I thought to myself. I passed that black car! But Arizona troopers don’t give tickets at eight over the speed. “The speed limit in Arizona is 65, isn’t it, sir?”
“Yup. You’ve been in New Mexico the last twenty miles or so. “Yup. The welcome sign is down. Some speeder took it out last week.” ”
“Well, I have no excuse, but there was no traffic. My girlfriend died unexpectedly on Wednesday. Came straight from the funeral this morning and was thinking of it all and didn’t see the welcome sign. I didn’t know I had left Arizona. Yikes. I am so sorry. Well, you’ll have to give me the ticket.”
It was getting darker. With strong flashlights, they visually checked out the pile of debris scattered over the front seat and on the floor. Then they invited me out to open the camper back so they could check it out..
“You carrying drugs or guns?”
“Good heavens, NO.” I gasped. “I just threw everything into the truck this morning. I was really disconcerted. What’s the speed limit on open roads in New Mexico, sir?”
“Oh heavens.” It was getting darker. With strong flashlights, they visually checked out the pile of debris scattered over the front seat and on the floor. Then they invited me out to open the camper back. “You carrying drugs or guns?”
“Good heavens, NO.” I gasped. “I just threw everything into the truck this morning. I was really disconcerted.”
“I understand. What about your friend? She died and ??? ”
I explained about Louise and the UFO’s.
The two officers looked at each other. “Er, where are you going, anyway? This is really the ends of the Earth, ma’am.”
They looked at each other again. Then they looked at me and back at each other. The two officers strolled back to the unmarked car without a word. I got out of the pickup and watched him writing a summons. Then I got back in the truck.
He returned and handed it to me.
I looked at it. “This isn’t a ticket! It’s a warning, sir!”
“Yes ma’am. See if you can stay alive to reach Roswell, will you? We have enough accidents by people trying to fly. You should get there about 9 pm.” Both officers smiled at me. I thanked them profusely and we gave each other hugs.
We got into our respective cars. They waved me onward, and I set the cruise control to 55. Within half an hour, darkness fell. The road dipped downward to a river valley about five hundred feet above sea level.
At an intersection with a freeway there were several gas stations. After filling my tank, I asked about Roswell. “You should be there around nine p.m.” said the attendant. “Just be careful on that there river road. It ain’t any too wide.” I noticed several huge grasshoppers, the thickness of my thumb, hopping around. “Good bait, eh?” I commented. He grunted.
Indeed, the road was narrow and quite midnight dark. Occasionally I would see a far distant light of house or cabin. Then nothing. Just the narrow, two-lane road paralleling a small window river. Darkness of black velvet. No lights. Creepy. Hmmmmmm. About forty-five minutes to go.
Something hit the windshield. I slammed on the brakes. It was the size of a sparrow. Sparrows don’t fly at night. What was THAT ?? A bat? I started off again. THUNK. THUNK. THUNKITY THUNK. THUNK. THUNK. THUNKITY THUNK. THUNK. THUNK. THUNKITY THUNK.
I was terrified. What is hitting my windshield? Vandals? I stopped and pulled out my cell phone. No service . Well, I would outrun them if I could. They weren’t going to get me without a fight. I pulled out my bb gun. Maybe I could fool them.
Then I noticed there were about fifty huge, sticky blotches all over my windshield. I looked closely. They were the remains of the hugest grasshoppers I had ever seen. Each was double the width of my thumb, and as long as my pointer finger. I opened my window about six inches and a dozen flew/hopped in before I could shut it again. After a messy, scary, thrashing struggle, I killed them with my bare hands. I wanted to vomit but didn’t dare open my door.
Cautiously I used my windshield wipers – what a mess! How was I going to see through the gunk? Perhaps I could find a road shoulder and sleep in the back until daylight? A car passed slowly by in the opposite direction and I flashed my lights at him. He stopped and backed up, then opened his window, which had a screen on it. “Grasshopper invasion!” he growled. “There’s miles of them. Where you going?”
“It’s less than an hour. There’s a gas station bout a mile ahead. Pull in and they’ll hose you off. If you follow me, I’ll lead you. Go about 15 mph and they don’t get killed. Don’t use your brakes if you can help it, they’ll clog them. We’re gonna have to dig the bastids outta the tire treads when we get there.”
He jumped out of his car. His head was covered by a thin blanket. Grunting and out of breath from the effort, he quickly dumped a gallon water from a bottle onto my windshield. He and his blanket were covered with the beasts. But I could see through the windshield again.
“Don’t use the wipers!” he shouted.
When he dove back into his car, he left the blanket, which by now was thick with grasshoppers, lying on the roadway. It was covered with more insects within seconds. The man slowly executed a U turn and then led me to the gas station. It took forever. When we pulled in the attendant didn’t ask us what to do. He automatically hosed both our cars and tires down with a high pressure hose. The ground was slippery with living, dying, and dead grasshoppers.
My rescuer and I introduced each other and I thanked him profusely.
He told me, “Before you get into Roswell Valley, you’ll go up a mountain. Soon as you hit coupla hundred feet above sea level, the hoppers drop off. You can clean your car and tire treads off. They stay and strip the foliage more at sea level. We gets them every coupla years and they strips this valley down. They don’t go into Roswell. I think”, and he smiled broadly, “they thinks the aliens eats ‘em.”
We all laughed.
At the men’s suggestion, I bought six gallon jugs of water to wash the car off when I reach the downhill side of the mountain. We both got into the cars – the attendant handed me several pairs of surgical gloves and then held a blanket over me to protect my cab. Still, about twenty hoppers made it in and I had to strangle them by hand. Those gloves were wonderful!
The next thirty miles were hell. I crawled along at 15 mph for two hours in pitch darkness. The hoppers were up to three feet deep in places. I did not use my wipers or brakes. The road was dark as the River Styx. Finally, I came to the mountain and started upwards. Sure enough, two hundred feet above the valley, the hoppers dissipated.
With relief, I pulled into a closed strip mall and doused the car and myself with water. All the possessions in the cab were pulled out and cleaned. More than fifty hoppers were clinging to everything I owned. I killed them with my bare hands and stomped on them. The windshields and headlights were cleaned off.
Ten minutes before midnight I pulled into the first Roswell motel I came to.
The next day I had to have the pickup cleaned off top and underneath at a car wash advertising “HOPPER CLEANING !!!” on a huge painted sign.
It was the beginning of an interesting weekend. Then the temperatures topped 120 degrees F. I took the freeway home.
I could hear Louise laughing all the way.
PS: A 2010 invasion of grasshoppers stripped an area of vegetation in Wyoming larger than the state of New Jersey.