2. Scourge of the Earth

Tuesday 8 May 1855

By Sally Wheaton

 

 

Nathanial stood looking out across the fields.  He and Alex had spent much time this past winter debating on whether or not the grasshopper eggs which had been laid in the ground last August would in fact survive the winter freeze and hatch out, or whether there was any chance that the extreme cold weather would kill them.  In fact, the whole community had been debating the question.  There’d been a general agreement that it would be best to plant whatever seed was available, most seeming to believe that the hopper eggs wouldn’t survive the freezing weather.

 

 

He shook his head in despair at what he saw before him.  The hope of the cold temperatures killing the eggs had clearly been in vain, but, he acknowledged to himself, it wouldn’t have made sense not to plant.

 

 

As he looked across his land now, he saw nothing but bare ground.  They had planted the wheat late last summer, ready to harvest it this spring, but now it was gone, all of it, completely gone.  The eggs had indeed survived the winter and when they had hatched out five days ago, the resulting swarm had been bigger than any he’d ever seen.  It had darkened the skies for five days, like an enormous rain cloud, and the hoppers had eaten everything in sight.  They’d started with anything green, including the crops, but instead of leaving when they’d stripped every last thing they could find, they had started on anything not green.  They’d especially taken a liking to rotting wood and this morning Nathanial had even found damage to the handles of the tools he kept in his barn,

 

 

He’d come here all those years ago, met Elizabeth on the journey west and they’d settled here, made their home here.  They’d brought three sons and two daughters into the world here.  Yet how was he going to feed them this coming year?  All of a sudden, he was facing the very real possibility they would have to up sticks and move, maybe further west, anywhere he could farm the land.

 

 

Alex Heyes had spoken of this possibility several times. But it was different for him and his wife Sarah.  They had only the one son, Hannibal.  He and Elizabeth had five children, ranging in age from eight to not quite two.  Not to mention the new baby on the way.  It wouldn’t be easy to move them all – into what?  Further into the unknown was all.  Who knew what destruction the hoppers had caused elsewhere?  He might be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire as his wife would say.  It wouldn’t be fair to Elizabeth to put her through that – though he knew for certain that if he asked her to, she’d do it.  She was a strong woman was Elizabeth Curry.  He smiled to himself.

 

 

She came up behind him and put her hand on his shoulder. He placed his hand on top of hers, without turning around, he didn’t need to, he had known she would be there.

 

 

“I hate to see you worry so,” she said gently.

 

 

“Five children and this …” he waved dismissively across the land in front of him.

 

 

“We’ve had less before.”

 

 

“We had less children too.”

 

 

She sighed.  She had to concede that point.

 

 

“Alex is talking about moving on, are you thinking the same?”

 

 

“Ah, Lizzie, with five children?  And you being …” his voice trailed off as her hand went unconsciously, protectively, to her belly.  He looked around.  “If there’s a way t’be avoiding it, I will.”

 

 

There was a long pause.

 

 

“Maybe I can get some other work, earn some money.”

 

 

She looked up at him, taken aback.  “Where?  There’ll be no work around Larson Creek, everyone’s been ruined.”

 

 

“Then I’ll just have to be going further afield.”

 

 

She looked at him doubtfully.  “I don’t like the sound of that, Nathanial Curry.”

 

 

He smiled gently at her.  “I never said I liked the idea, but you have to agree Lizzie, it’s better than moving the whole family.”

 

 

“Your place is right here with your family, we need you.”

 

 

“Lizzie, this family needs me to provide for them, that’s what they need and that’s what I’ll be doing.”  He paused a moment.  “And I happen to have a very capable wife who’ll be taking good care of this family while I’m gone.”

 

 

She snorted, not at all happy about the situation and yet at the same time, knowing that he was right.

 

 

“Is Alex behind this foolishness?”

 

 

“No Lizzie, he’s not. But I will talk to him about it.”

 

 

She nodded.  The previous winter had not been easy.  The hopper plagues had caused a lot of damage to the crops last year and they’d struggled to get through the winter.  Now, having lost this year’s crop so early, it looked like this coming winter might be even worse.  She would accept whatever needed to be done, but she also wasn’t ready to give up yet.

 

 

“Well,” she began.  “That land looks ripe for planting if you ask me.”

 

 

“Ah, you’re right there, it does,” he replied, dejectedly.  “But what do I plant it with?  Everything was destroyed, there’s no seed to plant – and we have no money to buy it.”

 

 

“We still have some of the canned fruit, we could spare another pig – maybe we could sell it for seed?  We’ll get through the summer.”

 

 

“Maybe,” he agreed.  “If the luck’s with us.  But with no growing crops now and no seed to plant, there’ll be no harvest.  With nothing to feed the animals, they won’t last long and without them there’ll be no meat, no eggs or milk.  Look around us, doesn’t look to me like there’ll be much in the way of berries or fruit to be preserving for the winter and, with no wild food about, there’ll not be many rabbits surviving, nor game birds staying around.  And even if we could survive all that and feed the family, there’d still be no seed to plant.”

 

 

She smiled.  “I love the optimist in you, and when you put it like that, how can I but have faith in you?”

 

 

He couldn’t help but smile back briefly, though his face soon grew serious again.  “I need to find work Lizzie, we’ll be needing seed to plant – and quickly.  If we could get it planted soon, there’d be a fair chance of a decent crop by the end of the summer.”

 

 

“Nathanial,” she replied, serious now herself, “I do have faith in you. I know you’ll do what’s right for us all, and if that means you going away to find work, then so be it.”

 

 

“It won’t be easy here on your own with five children, as well as the farm to look after – that’s a lot of work.”

 

 

“Sarah and I will support each other I’m sure, and the boys are old enough to help.  We’ll get through.”

 

 

“One step at a time as your old father used to say?”

 

 

“Exactly,” she nodded.

 

 

He leaned forward and planted a kiss full on her lips.  “How did I get lucky enough to find you?” he asked softly.

 

 

She swatted at him.  “Nathanial Curry! In broad daylight too!  You should be ashamed of yourself!”

 

 

He laughed and pulled her close, his arm around her shoulders, as they turned and started back towards the house, uncertain of what the months ahead would bring, yet certain that, together, they’d find a way through.  Just as they always did.

 

 

 

 

 

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