A grasshopper and a turtle, relaxing in a forest of green reeds next to a tranquil pond, were engaged in a debate.
Actually, it hadn't started out as a debate; it had started out as a friendly conversation about the nature of God and moral choices, but it had degenerated into a debate when the turtle made an offhanded comment about how God had given turtles many long years of life so that they might have time to learn the meaning of existence.
The grasshopper took umbrage at that, and pointed out—between the quick little bites he was taking of the plant to which he was clinging—that while turtles did live longer than grasshoppers, they moved very slowly and would therefore have few experiences beyond those which could be found in pond or forest. "Grasshoppers," he said, "have evolved to be skillful flyers, which provides a much greater advantage for learning about the world, and therefore, reality."
Thus, the conversation changed from a discussion about faith and morality into a debate about evolutionary advantage and the nature of reality.
The turtle's response was predictable. She said it was easy to see that turtles were more highly evolved than other creatures. "Note," she said, "my protective shell."
The grasshopper was quick with his response: "All your protective shell does is allow you to retreat from the world. In that state, you learn nothing. I, on the other hand, escape danger by quickly flying high above it, and while I'm up there, I can learn about the world below."
"Right," scoffed the turtle, "fly up into the sky where you will likely be eaten by a bird."
"Not a chance," said the grasshopper, pausing his munching long enough to scoff right back at the turtle. "When flying, I can see the bird coming and avoid it because I have five eyes, two of which are compound, unlike your noticeably simple eyes. I'm surprised you can see anything with those wimpy side-looking eyes."
"My eyes may be limited," said the turtle, "but I clearly see you are only able to maintain this conversation between bites of that plant you are clinging to. Grasshoppers must keep on eating at all times in order to survive. What happens, say, in a drought when there are no green plants for you to eat? You will die. I, on the other hand, can go months, years, if need be, without eating a thing."
"You call that living?" said the grasshopper. "Lying there inside your precious shell, seeing nothing, eating nothing. Given that choice, I'd rather be dead.
The turtle took her time before answering, giving the grasshopper time to reflect on what he had said about choosing death over life. "I'm glad you mentioned the choice between life and death. Earlier, you mentioned evolution, and now you brag about your compound eyes. What good can your fancy compound eyes do you if you don't have a complex brain with which to interpret what those eyes are seeing? I know for a fact that a grasshopper brain is only about the size of a grain of rice."
"Ha!" exclaimed the grasshopper. "There you go again, assuming interpretation, of all things, to be of high value to an organism. What is there to interpret? My wonderful eyes see what they see, and that's the end of it. If I see danger, I instinctively jump away and then fly myself out of danger. If I see food, I eat it. In life, there is danger, and there is food. That's all there is to life."
Again, the turtle paused before answering. Then, she softly said, "What about sex?"
"Oh that," said the grasshopper, pausing in his eating long enough to look off into the distance. "Well, I leave that up to instinct. When it's time, I do what is necessary and go on my merry way."
The turtle also looked off into the distance. "Doesn't sound very merry to me."
There was an uncomfortable silence.
Finally, the grasshopper asked the turtle a somewhat personal question: "Sounds like you don't like this topic. What's the matter? Can't get a mate?"
"Can't get a mate? Me? Are you kidding?"
The grasshopper could see the turtle was irritated at his question. "Well, saa-ree, Ms. Turtle. I didn't mean to imply your aren't attractive enough to get yourself a mate. I just thought maybe you . . . uh, hadn't found one to your liking just yet."
"Don't kid yourself, Grasshopper. I've had many mates. And many children. How old do you think I am anyhow?"
The grasshopper shrugged in a meaningful way, as only grasshoppers can. "Well, it's hard for me to tell. My compound eyes see you very clearly, but I haven't had enough encounters with turtles to tell a turtle's age. In fact, if you hadn't been using feminine dialogue tags in this encounter, I wouldn't of even known you were a gal, let along a polygamous gal."
"Now wait just a minute, Grasshopper. You just said the word 'polygamous' like it was a dirty word."
"Now don't go getting all riled up, Turtle. I didn't mean anything by it. I suppose it's just your nature. But we grasshoppers look for one special chic. And we know how to pick 'em. Let me tell you, when I decide it's time, I produce my unique song-—by rubbing my back legs on my forewings—and the chics come runnin'. Not only that, I can produce a scent, you know, a pheromone, that makes me especially attractive to 'em. And you want to know something else? Once I draw a chic in close, I can put on up to eighteen individual poses using my wings, legs, and palps to finalize the deal. I'm telling you, not one of 'em can resist that."
The grasshopper watched the turtle for any sign of a response, but the turtle just stared at him.
"Well?" said the grasshopper. "No comeback this time? Cat got your tongue?"
Still the turtle didn't respond.
"I suppose you don't want to talk about your mating habits, do you, Turtle? Pretty boring, I expect. All that slow-motion stuff and then the heartless laying of your eggs in a hole in the sand. Never knowing if your poor little babies will ever hatch and somehow make it to the sea without being eaten by birds or maybe picked up by some little kid who will keep it in a cardboard box for a while until he gets bored with it just sitting there doing nothing and decide a turtle isn't much of a pet after all and flush it down the toilet."
At that, the turtle finally responded. "You said you couldn't tell how old I am. I'll let you in on a little secret. You can tell by counting the number of rings on my plastron. Each year, a new layer of lamina grows on my plastron, very much like a tree grows a new ring each year."
"Is that right?" asked the grasshopper, pausing his non-stop eating long enough to lean down to try to see. "Uh, what's a plastron?"
"It's actually a very interesting part of my anatomy," said the turtle with a wink. "Come down here and take a look."
The grasshopper was curious, but cautious. "Uh, land turtles really are herbivores, aren't they? You only eat plants, right?"
The turtle smiled. "Of course. Everybody knows turtles eat only plants, just as you do."
So the grasshopper flew down to get a closer look at the turtle's plastron, and the turtle ate him, because although land turtles are herbivores, sometimes, if the situation requires it, they have been known to eat obnoxious insects.
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