Today in History: July 20

A cloud was over the sun. It was not like any cloud they had ever seen before. It was a cloud of something like snowflakes, but they were larger than snowflakes, and thin and glittering. Light shone through each flickering particle.
There was no wind. The grasses were still and the hot air did not stir, but the edge of the cloud came on across the sky faster than wind. …
Plunk! Something hit Laura’s head and fell to the ground. She looked down and saw the largest grasshopper she had ever seen.Then huge brown grasshoppers were hitting the ground all around her, hitting her head and her face and her arms. They came thudding down like hail.
The cloud was hailing grasshoppers. The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground and the house with the noise of a hailstorm.
Laura tried to beat them off. Their claws clung to her skin and her dress. They looked at her with bulging eyes, turning their heads this way and that. Mary ran screaming into the house. Grasshoppers covered the ground, there was not one bare bit to step on. Laura had to step on grasshoppers and they smashed squirming and slimy under her feet.
—Laura Ingalls Wilder

The largest recorded swarm of locusts descended on the Midwest on this date in 1875. It was the Rocky Mountain locust (above), a form of grasshopper, and the cloud, an unending stream of locusts searching for food in the midst of a western drought, was larger than California: 1800 miles long and 110 miles wide, and it stretched from southern Canada to north Texas.

The insects descended from the sky onto newly plowed fields and ate all vegetation available: blankets on horses, bark off trees, even clothes off those who tried vainly to shoo them away. The swarms had become a somewhat common plague in those years but the drought-driven swarms also probably contributed to the extinction of the insect, as huge swaths of the population participated in the swarm, deposited eggs which became feed, and did not deposit eggs away from predators.

The last Rocky Mountain locust was seen alive in 1902, just 27 years after that last great swarm. Almost as an afterthought, the species, Melanoplus spretus, was finally declared extinct in 2014.

* * * *

Whatever exists, he said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.
He looked about at the dark forest in which they were bivouacked. He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected.
These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.—The Judge, Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is 83 today.

* * * *
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the Moon for their one lunar excursion on this date in 1969.

* * * *
Bruce Lee died 43 years ago today. James Doohan died 11 years ago today.

* * * *
Sir Edmund Hillary was born on this date in 1919. Nam June Paik was born in 1932 on this date. Natalie Wood was born on this date in 1938.

* * * *
Senator Barbara Mikulski is 80 today. Dame Diana Rigg is 78 today. Tony Oliva is 78 today. Judy Chicago is 77. Kim Carnes is 71. Carlos Santana is 69. Thomas Friedman is 63. Chris Cornell is 52 today.

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  1. Julie · July 20, 2016

    I can’t say I “like” this, ‘cuz ewwww. But good job. And thanks for the Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    Liked by 1 person

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