Archive for June 15th, 2006

Steinbeck’s Turtle With the Old Humorous Face

June 15, 2006 @ 11:06 am | Filed under:

So today I’m thinking about that turtle in the beginning of The Grapes of Wrath. It’s chapter three and he’s just an old turtle plodding along in the dust beside the fields of dying corn. We heard about the dust and the corn in the opening chapter, how the wind and the heat are blowing the life out of the crops, and how the sharecroppers are close to breaking but still hold on to enough stubborn grit that their women know somehow, no matter what happens, they’ll survive. As long as the men don’t break, Steinbeck says, and when he shows us this turtle a few pages later, we know he’s showing us how a humble, homely creature can be tough enough to endure a serious battering and keep going. Even after a car hits him, “flipping him like a tiddly wink,” like a pawn in some cosmic game, into the fringes of the crisping corn, he gets himself turned back onto his feet and resumes his steady plodding.

Some wild oat seeds get stuck in his shell and eventually they fall underneath him and his body drags dust over them as he goes along. Sooner or later, some rain will fall—it has to, sometime. And those seeds will sprout, and it will be the turtle who gave them a chance at life. Here, too, we’re seeing a glimpse of these men we’re about to meet, men whose accidental actions will cause chains of events, men whose steady plodding will bring life out of the dust—sooner or later.

And then along comes Tom Joad and he sees that turtle and scoops him up. Rolls him up in his jacket to take home as a present for a little brother he hasn’t seen in we don’t know how many years. Fresh out of prison, not even sure his family is still holding on to the forty acres they’ve sharecropped time out of mind.

I love how Steinbeck does this: how Joad is that turtle though he doesn’t know it; how forces so big he can’t see them will catch him up and carry him along, and at times he’ll feel as blind and helpless as that turtle he’s got wrapped up in his coat.

Only three and a half chapters, and Steinbeck’s got me trembling.

The Jungle Report

June 15, 2006 @ 5:55 am | Filed under:

If you’re just tuning into this story, it begins here.

Today’s news: still no news. Herodotus continues to munch unmolested. There has been not the teeniest tiniest sign of The Monster’s presence. Is he pupating inside poor old Homer’s remains? We cannot tell. I’d post a picture but it’s not a pretty sight.

I find myself checking on Herodotus like he’s a newborn baby with respiratory issues. Jane originally found him on the same parsley plant as Homer, on the same day. We speak of the implications in whispers: What if the mother wasp laid an egg in Herodotus too? Horrible to contemplate.

The suspense is agony: Is he a ticking bomb? Will he suffer the same gruesome fate as his fellow? Or will he live to unfurl his wings and sail off into the paradise of blossoms that is our perennial bed?

Meanwhile, we found this: the tale of an ichneumonid wasp whose larva actually alters a spider’s behavior.

The orb spider is stung while on its web and is temporarily paralysed while the wasp lays her egg on it. The spider then recovers and goes about its life with the newly hatched wasp larva feeding on it by sucking its haemolymph (spider “blood”).

For about 7 to 14 days, the spider continues building its usual orb webs for prey capture. However, in the evening of the night when it is to be killed by its wasp parasite, the spider weaves a different web, designed specifically to suit the purposes of the wasp. The wasp larva then moults, kills and consumes the spider and pupates, suspending itself safely from its custom-built cocoon web.

The spider’s dying act is to spin a cocoon for its assassin! Talk about adding insult to injury!

And how does the timing work out? I don’t get that “in the evening of the night when it is to be killed” part. “The execution was scheduled for the stroke of midnight.” Or is it like Charlotte, knowing her time was nigh, urgently extracting her promise from Wilbur as the strength ebbed from her body?