Author photo

By Pat Gracey
contributing writer 

Meeting the hoppers

The Spirit of Tehachapi


March 19, 2022

Pat Gracey

The Hoppers are not a family that moved here recently, but little hopping insects; grass hoppers and crickets.

In a back issue of The Loop newspaper I read in my friend, Jon Hammond's article, about a grasshopper plague hitting the whole Tehachapi Valley in 1940. "Golly!" I exclaimed. "I was there!" I thought it was in 1939 but Jon knows his dates. At any rate, I was 12 in 1940 and we lived on the south side of Highline Road about a half mile east of China Hill. We always called Highline Road, Pole Line Road. Don't know who changed it but it seems "the minute my back is turned," someone does the deed. Gee, we were only gone 26 years! (My back was turned when I got married in 1950 and that's when it happened.)

The panorama scene from the location of our house showed us an unobstructed view to the last of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the opposite northern side of the valley plus a wonderful sight of the whole valley. It was spring and the poppies made the mountains and all vacant land covered with the orange and purple wildflowers. In the higher hills one would find red Indian Paint Brush. So lovely.

Then, we noticed the little grasshoppers and with them the large hoppers at least four to five inches long and fat as a cigar. When those big boys would hit the ground you could hear them as they landed.

They say (whoever "they" are) that the hoppers would be apt to show up after a very dry year. Leave it to the Tehachapi Valley hoppers to not consult their weather reports. We had a very nice wet year in 1940 with 20.84 inches of precipitation. In fact, from 1937 through 1941 the precipitation was in the teens.

We got used to walking through the grasshoppers who sometimes would boil up around one's feet. Once in a while there would be what we called "tobacco juice" on our clothing. The main problem was that they ate every living plant in the valley. They had shown up before the wildflowers had dropped their seeds so for several years the hills had very sparse wildflowers.

The worst problem was with the farmers crops which were also feasted upon.

One slight advantage was chickens had lots to eat. Free chicken feed. Also, think of those ravens. After a diet of road kill it must have been a treat to eat a hopper.

We had, in 1979, a horde of hoppers and sometime during those years, crickets as well. At any rate, I saw, on our garage wall, a solid mass of grasshoppers so close together they looked like a large grasshopper quilt. Almost a grisly beauty.

My husband liked to have a vegetable garden and he was greatly disturbed that the crickets and later hoppers were eating his hard work. I called the Department of Agriculture who recommended Malalthion. I told him I was concerned with eating our veggies. He said it would be OK. Hmm. Later on, it was banned with ominous warnings about ingesting it. We survived.

When I was a freshman in high school I took Agriculure Botany rather than Biology. Our teacher told us that to rid plants of unwanted insects, we should soak tobacco in water and spray the ailing plant. I never bothered for plants do not really take to me. They let me water them but prefer I don't touch them. However, it looks like the hoppers carry their own tobacco juice for defense.

The old timers used to say a mild winter would bring on the grasshoppers. My, the last five or six years of practically no winter ought to bring on a horde of the nasty little insects dating back to biblical times. Even the Pharaoh had 'em!


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