Inchworm Season
May 10, 2011

Because I had a bossy big sister, I like to carry around this mantle that I was an oppressed, subservient little kid with Wednesday Adams braids. But as I look back, I'm finding mounting evidence that I was also a bossy little kid with Wednesday Adams braids. I couldn't boss my older sister, but my friends were a different story.

An anecdote my mom loves to tell again and again is how I would have friends over and "force" them to watch movies. I put "force" in quotes because "force" is the word my mother uses. My only commentary on that is to ask, "Do you really have to force kids to watch movies?" I guess if they are classic movies you do. And I was really into classic movies, which, for the record, I called "black-and-white movies."

My friends didn't want to watch black-and-white movies. They told me they didn't like the kinds of movies that didn't have color. But it was my house, and I was in control of the VCR, and so we watched black-and-white movies. Not only did I "force" them to watch the colorless movies they had zero interest in, but I carried on a running commentary about the movie. Assuming that all kids love to learn about the facts and foibles about the olden days, I would explain the movie to them. Alert them to a funny bit that was coming up, point out the funny bit when it arrived, and then pause and explain the funny bit along with proper historical context.

I really don't know why my friends kept coming over.

I didn't force him to watch movies, but I'm fairly certain I was bossy in other ways with my friend Michael. I have an uncomfortable memory of playing at Star Wars and informing Michael that he was Luke, because he was blond, and directing another friend, Jamie, to be Han Solo, because he had dark hair. As a kid, Jamie looked startlingly like Gopher from The Love Boat -- so much so that everyone commented on it. However, Your Yeoman-Purser Gopher didn't fit in with my Star Wars plans, so Jamie was Han Solo, Michael was Luke Skywalker, and I was Princess Leia.

Oh, and I informed them that they were both in love with me and had to fight each other for me.

And maybe even rescue me from my prison on top of a mantlepiece in Jamie's basement.

But I'm not sure, because this is one of those memories I can only look at out of the corner of one eye and keep it slightly blurry. Looking directly at it could cause me to crawl under the couch for the rest of my life. (I do take some comfort that this was all before we found out Luke and Leia were brother and sister, so I couldn't have been more than nine when I was laying down these new Star Wars plotlines.)

One thing I didn't need to boss Michael around on was inchworms. Inchworms were a shared passion.

Every spring we waited impatiently for inchworm season. In Minnesota, this could take the kind of sit-stillness that eight-year-olds generally lack. An unwelcome (but annoyingly commonplace) snowfall in March, April, or May would delay everything spring. The storm windows remained firmly in place, boots continued to be forced over plastic baggie-encased shoes, and our bikes stayed in the garage until my parents judged that the ratio of melting snow to exposed dry sidewalk would not break our necks. But when our neighbors' honeysuckle bush finally came over all spiky and yellow, and when the briefest of breezes sifted thick lilac scent through bedroom screens, Michael and I met up for an inchworm hunt.

The inchworms of our neighborhood managed to be both everywhere and hard to find. Outfitted with stacks of bathroom Dixie cups, we spent happy hours scouring the neighborhood for the ubiquitous elusives. If we didn't immediately run our inchworms to ground, a strategizing session was in order.

Using books to research what inchworms ate or where they were likely to stake out a habitat in Minnesota was not how we rolled. If a helpful (but clearly clueless) parent had suggested such a course of action, it would have been roundly rejected. Most -- if not all -- of the fun of inchworm season came from the hunt. It would have been too much like school to consult books before trudging around to studiously examine the proper trees or shrubs.

There was a certain amount of creative spontaneity about our inchworm hunts, but they weren't aimless. In our strategizing sessions, we got out popsicles and rehashed the hunts of previous inchworm seasons. Where had we found them before? When we reasoned that inchworms must live in the hollow metal tubes of Michael's swing set, we really believed that inchworms must live in the hollow metal tubes of swing sets and not that they were feeding on the buds of the elm tree in his backyard. If we had nudged the surface our inchworm season even a little, we would have discovered they're also called "canckerworms," that they don't live in the trees as much as they "infest" them, and that they eventually destroy the trees they're infesting. Talk about killing the magic of inchworm season.

We would have also learned that inchworm season lasts a mere week, so if we missed it we would have known that there was really no point in starting the hunt at all. Avoiding actual inchworm research to keep things impulsive and exciting is probably why I've always had a problem with Murph in Beverly Cleary's Henry Huggins books.

Murph is the genius friend of Henry's who is building a robot when we first meet him. He's going to use red Christmas lights for eyes (not blue, as Beezus excitedly suggests) and he's going to name his robot Thorvo. He comes across as unsmiling and fairly cheerless. Plus, he initially tried to steal Henry's paper route and is also the rigid pusher of the "no girls allowed" rule in the clubhouse. But even if I overlook those personality defects, there was still something about Murph that took all the fun out of things for me, even if he didn't for Henry.

When Henry suggests they build a clubhouse, Murph lays down the law that they will build it from plans he will draw up himself. Of course Henry sees the sense in this, and the boys do build a very professional, very solid clubhouse with a door, actual windows, and even a foundation. great and everything, but the clubhouses and tree houses you build yourself aren't supposed to be very professional or very solid. They're supposed to be sagging lean-tos that only keep out the rain when you drape them with extra branches. They're supposed to take a lot of creative effort, both in sourcing the materials and in construction. They're supposed to be the kinds of things you'd build if you truly lived in the wild without any modern conveniences like window panes or drafting paper.

This is probably why I never wanted the LEGO sets that showed you how to build a castle or a police boat. I just messed around with bulk LEGO collections and came up with my own constructions. The fun comes from the process, not from the completion, which is exactly why we didn't fuss ourselves with inchworm research.

Michael always collected the black ones while I was partial to the slightly translucent green ones. When we found an inchworm swinging gently from an invisible thread under a tree or patiently trekking up the chains of a swing, we let it humpback over our finger for a bit before introducing it to its new Dixie cup home. After piling in leaves and sticks to keep the inchworm from starving or getting bored, we continued our hunt.

When we thought we had collected enough, we rubber-banded wax paper over the cups, poked in some air holes, and called it a day. At home, the Dixie cups were placed next to our beds. Because, you know, they were our pet inchworms. When morning came, and we examined our cups to determine how our new pets were faring, neither of us could ever figure out why all we had was a Dixie cup of leaves and twigs. We upended the cups, sifting through the wilted (and uneaten) leaves for carcasses, but never found any trace of our inchworms.

I believe we had some theories that involved rapid decomp to the point of evaporation. The notion that they crawled out through the huge air holes we supplied never occurred to us. After all, why would our black and green inchworms want to escape the homes we had so lovingly furnished for them?

We'd try again next year.

Hungry? Get a menu pushed
under your door when I update:
Powered by MessageBot
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
  Copyright © 2002-2011 Stephanie Vander Weide