Saturday, April 28, 2012

Grasshopper from the Future

When I was in fifth grade, my friends and I believed in everything. We had absolutely no doubt concerning the existence of ghosts, aliens, big foot, or anything else that was marvelous and strange. (One or two of us still believed in Santa Claus, but I won't mention any names.) We were encouraged in our beliefs by our fifth grade teacher, Mr. Harmon, the Fox Mulder of his generation. "Nothing is impossible," he told us. And why not? It was the space age. In just a few years, America would put a man on the moon.

One of our most cherished beliefs was the notion of time travel. We were all huge fans of the Irwin Allen TV series, The Time Tunnel, in which two scientists traveled back and forth in time each week, meeting famous people in history like Davy Crockett, and trying unsuccessfully to prevent such disasters as the sinking of the Titanic. (I'm talking about two separate episodes, by the way. I don't mean to imply that Davy Crockett was a passenger on the Titanic, although that would have certainly made an interesting story.)

We even built our own time tunnel, using a coffee can, several feet of wire, and a six-volt lantern battery. When we showed it to Mr. Harmon, he was impressed. "How are you going to test it?" he asked. We hadn't thought of that. Obviously, none of us would fit inside a coffee can. One of us could put a hand or finger in there, but that might be risky. We had to find a test subject—a small test subject.

A couple of us had pet mice or hamsters, and we considering using one of them. In the end, however, we decided to go with a grasshopper. There were plenty of them around. And there was no danger of forming an attachment to a grasshopper; if it did disappear into the space-time continuum, it would be no great loss. We captured the largest one we could find and put it into the coffee can.

There must have been a moment of hesitation before Thomas Edison flipped the switch to send current to the first light bulb, or before Alexander Graham Bell spoke the first words into a telephone. So must there be a moment when all great inventors pause at the brink of destiny, posing the fundamental question: “Will my invention work, or will it fail?” This was such a moment.

What if it worked? What if our grasshopper disappeared, and somewhere—some when—reappeared out of nowhere? “Wow!” people would say. “A grasshopper from the future!” (Or “past”—we weren’t really sure which direction he would be traveling.)

We connected the battery, and...

Nothing happened.

As I recall, we weren’t very disappointed. It was a long shot at best. But I have to say I am a little disappointed now. Nearly fifty years have gone by, and we still haven’t solved the mysteries of time and space.

On the other hand, there are plenty of grasshoppers around. Who’s to say one of them wasn’t sent back in time by some kids in the future?

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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