The Adventures of Casey and Seth, Part One

Papaver somniferum defies agricultural advances. Poppy cultivation remains a time-consuming gamble, opium extraction a tedious, manual exercise. To produce enough opium for just one viss (about 1.65 kg) requires the scoring and scraping of three thousand seedpods for their alkaloid-rich opium ‘tears.’”—from “Chasing the Dragon” by Charles Cox.

Way back when, we were friends from the beginning. But this story begins before that. My mother knew his mother and the two of us looked into each other’s eyes before we knew we had names. Through grade school we were like Siamese twins, stuck together at the hip of the soul, and our hearts would beat with the same rhythm.

Running and laughing through the valleys of our little town, we watched and cried as, one by one, they filled them in and built housing developments. I remember the time we went out to collect butterfly cocoons and we made a mistake. The cocoons were all over the place by this slow moving, light green covered stream, and we cruised the lushness of it all, gathering them in, one by one. We took them to his house and placed them in a large open dish in the closed vestibule.

It was when they hatched that everything went crazy. He told me about it the afternoon that it happened.

“Oh Jesus. Seth, I hear her yelp and I runs in and by god they are all over streaming up the walls, over the lamps, covering the glass on the windows, the couches, the chairs, and heading for the next room too, and my mother is brushing herself like wild and running around the room. Praying Mantis eggs! That’s what! Eggs. Not butterfly cocoons at all.”

The funny thing about it all was that the valley must have been the last stronghold of Praying Mantises left in the world because I heard they were an endangered species soon after that. I can tell you thousands of them died that day. Casey took me to the house later and showed me the bags of dead babies. Insecticide. DDT. That’s what they used back then. We stood there looking at them all, all crunched together and when we looked back up at each other our eyes were filled with water. We walked away with our arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, not saying a word.

The next spring the bulldozers moved in to the valley. At the edge of the valley, as they ripped it up tree by tree, hill by hill, plant by plant, and filled in the stream —- I always wonder where the water went —– we caught snakes by the dozens as they ran from the machines, pilot snakes, corn snakes, garden snakes, green snakes, you name it.

One time we didn’t have any container to put them in and Casey found an old paint can. We put them in there and then, when we had more than we could count, we let them go. We watched them spin wildly on the ground as we dumped them out. They were all covered with green paint. Green. It even covered their eyes. As they slicked all over the place they left green trails on the cement sidewalk as they tried desperately to get back into the vanishing fields.

I imagined myself blind with green paint smell up my nose, all over my skin, drying and tightening, slow but sure, and I wondered how soon the snakes would shed their skins. I asked Casey and he said, “Not soon enough Seth, not soon enough.” We never collected snakes or anything else ever again.





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