In Which I Eat Bugs, Win Second Place and Tackle a Friend in a Fountain

This blog post is part of a joint adventure I took with my friend L. She has written her perspective on her blog, It’s Raining Ink. So check out her thoughts on this crazy adventure, and then check out mine! (Or vice versa.)

L is a script writer, and she explores the world through plays. Over supper a few weeks ago, she was discussing her fascination with the idea of insects as a food source. And as a Purdue Boilermaker, there was only one reply to this statement:

“You need to go to Bug Bowl.”

As my former farm broadcasting supervisor told it, Bug Bowl began when some Purdue entomology grad students told him about their evening cockroach race they were going to hold on campus. Rather than attend alone, he broadcasted the event on the radio. Several people showed up, so the insect enthusiasts decided to start Bug Bowl to spread their love for creepy crawlies all over campus. Bug Bowl has grown into a university-wide celebration of spring as an event called Spring Fest taking place over a weekend in April.

So on Saturday, L and I headed north for West Lafayette and the campus of Purdue University. I picked my friend up, and as we drove down her farm road, we stopped to deliver a drink to her father, who was working around a cattle gate on the creek. Another farmer had stopped in his truck to talk, so she chatted with them for a while. I ended up shutting off my car and listening to the sounds of the quiet: mostly birds and breezes. The greens of trees and pastures and the blue of the sky were vibrant and brilliantly real. Clouds were nonexistent.

Music played from a special album. A while down the road, L said, “What is this?”

“Coldplay.”

“Well…a beautiful Saturday morning, I’d be worried if it wasn’t.”

“Me too.” Then to her explanation that she had meant which album, I replied, “‘Head Full of Dreams.’ This album is for sunny days.”

Buds on TreeAnd it was the perfect soundtrack for the drive. I didn’t talk a lot. I just wanted to soak in Indiana.

We had to take a detour as there was major construction on the route I had meant to take, so we went down a frontage road along Interstate 74. I love going down frontage roads–I feel like I know something the drivers on the interstate don’t. I don’t know what that is, but it’s something. And we saw some beautiful farms as a result of the detour.

When we arrived on campus, I couldn’t hold back my excitement. “We’re at Purdue!” I’d exclaim, then clap my hands. I even became enthusiastic about the hot dog smell lingering in the air. Usually, I contain it, but since it was L, it was okay. Plus, I couldn’t wait for what was around the corner for her.

Spring was my favorite time of year while I lived and studied at Purdue. Summer was green, fall was breathtaking, winter crisp and still, but spring meant midnight pancakes, new mulch, flowers blooming, trees budding, walks on warm evenings…there was nothing like it.

And there was Spring Fest.

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We parked and visited the ATM in my old residence hall. While we did so, I tried to plan how to text a high school friend, N, without raising suspicion or ignoring L. Earlier this week, I had contacted N to let her know L and I would be at Purdue and  that I wanted to surprise L with a visit from N. I managed the text, and we headed to the bug tent. And L made a beeline for the fried mealworms.

Mealworm Flour Flavored Popcorn
Popcorn covered with mealworm flour.

In all my time at Purdue, I had conveniently either avoided the bug tent or walked quickly through, never stopping to try anything…or smell the mealworm flour. However, insects as food was what got us to Spring Fest this year, so I felt like I owed the insects something, and L was not going to let me walk past the mealworms.

At this point, I should note that, a week before, I had my animal science classes identify defects in milk. I added flavors such as salt, garlic and buttermilk to quarts of whole milk and asked them to taste each flavor–entertaining for me to watch, not so much for the students. So when faced with eating insects, I thought, Okay. I’ll do this for them. Somehow, that helped. Accountability and all that.

I will admit to being vocal about not liking the idea of eating the mealworms that were still wriggling in a tub next to the frying pan. The Purdue student would reach in the tub, throw some into the sizzling oil, move them around with a spatula for about 30 seconds (maybe even less) and then scoop them into a small cup.

I took a cup, and here is what happened:

I don’t know that I would put them on a sandwich, but at least there was protein.

The next activity was more up my alley: agronomic. Next to the mealworms were Purdue Improved Cowpea (or Crop) Storage bags. I had heard some buzz about them, especially when Bill Gates displayed a bag at a meeting of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, so I was interested to see them up close.

I was taking pictures of the bags and admiring them when one of the students at that particular booth announced that there would be a competition for tying the feed bags.

And, well, being a farm girl who untied feed bags for a living, I had to try.

A poster with pictures of how to tie them hung in front of me, along with the expert time of 3 minutes and 20 seconds. I tried to study the pictures, but they did not help. There were also deductions for each infraction, but I couldn’t figure those out either.

Luckily, a student said he would demonstrate.

So I watched carefully, stuck half of the zip ties he gave me in my teeth and as soon as they said go, I was going.

I was amazed at how focused I was. I actually thought of the film Chariots of Fire and how Sam Mussobini told Harold Abrahams not to look at the other runners, how it was “absolutely fundamental.” And I didn’t look.

As a result of that film’s line of thought, I straightened up and threw my arms up like an Olympian, saying, “Done!”

And that expert time of three minutes and 20 seconds? I beat it.

My time was one minute and 30 seconds, one second behind the first place winner, who was to my left, and 34 seconds better than the champion from the first competition of the day. I received a PICS sticker, which I hung on the white board in my classroom. The first place winner received a hat.

When I analyzed the tape later, I realized if I hadn’t fumbled with a zip tie on the second layer and had stuck all the zip ties between my teeth at once, I could have shaved off three or four seconds.

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By this time, I had started looking around for N, making sure we didn’t miss her. I felt I was starting to look suspicious, like I was plotting something, what with all my glancing behind us as we tried the chocolate covered crickets, teeth scraping against the wings. But we moved to the next tent and then to Pfendler Hall, one of my favorite buildings on campus with its dark wood and older classrooms (some of my favorite courses took place there). I called N before going in and explained where we were. I only told L a friend was meeting us there. She waited next to the staircase leading to the second floor. I met N near the front doors and led her to L, whose mouth dropped.

I loved it. I took a seat on the stairs and listened to L’s astonishment, grinning like crazy. They hadn’t seen each other in at least a couple of years.

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I ended up eating a hot dog and an elephant ear for lunch, and then a Purdue friend, S, met us for ice cream in the afternoon. Once we finished eating, we stopped by the attic in the Agricultural Administration building. Visiting this top floor is a step back in time. Old brick is exposed and signs from former times still adorn the walls. Booklets and old letters lay on the bookshelves. I picked up a booklet from the 1930s called, “The Evolution of the Sirloin” by Charles S. Plumb. On the front was a Scottish grace by Rabbie (Robert) Burns that my Grandmother often recites.

Inside, I found and read aloud a passage about the king who, in the 1600s, decided that a specific cut of meat was so delightful that he gave it knighthood and named it Sir Loin.

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Upon descending from the attic, we walked to Smith Hall to see the insect displays on the walls, and then to the Beering Fountain to enjoy the sunshine and clear skies. Kids played in the water. I stuck my hands in the stream shooting from one of the round-topped concrete pillars. The water held the perfect temperature for the day, and it felt soft, despite the fact it was shooting full force onto my hand.

N quietly said, “Go run in the fountain, Elise.”

I replied, “Tempting,” then paused, pondering the statement before sitting down.

A few minutes later, she reiterated, “You should go.”

“I want to.”

But I waited.

And then L proclaimed she was going to stand where she couldn’t get wet, and when she planted her feet at the tip of the triangle of water and spread her arms wide, I said quietly to N, “I’m going.”

After Beering Ftn RunI pulled my keys and cell phone from my pockets, rose up, and in a few quick strides before she knew what was happening, wrapped my arms around L and pushed her back into the water. She fought back and spun me around, streams jetting full blast into my face until I barely knew where I was. We spun out of the fountain and I freed myself. N snapped a brilliant picture showing L being aggressive, which we hardly knew could happen.

The water felt so good. I was hot, and I felt more refreshed than I had felt in a long time. I had known if I didn’t do a Purdue fountain run (a time-honored tradition), I would regret it, but my logical side that tries to act like an adult told me I shouldn’t do it because I’d have to sit in wet clothes on the drive home.

But when we first arrived at the Beering Fountain, S had told me about a little girl at the Engineering Fountain who had reasoned with her mom that she should go on a fountain run because it was warm enough out to where she could run three laps afterwards and dry off. That made sense to me. But I didn’t think I’d act on it until I saw L standing where she did. The need for action had risen in me, and all of a sudden, I had the opportunity. I seized it.

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When all was said and done, L and I headed home. It was a beautiful evening. I was all talked out and growing tired, so I didn’t say much. Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto played, and I thought of the quote about good friends sitting together in silence. Having the opportunity to sit in quiet for a while is a joy, especially after a week of teaching.

It had been an eventful and rewarding week, from enjoying a local FFA banquet to taking students to the livestock judging contest on Thursday where we won first place team and several individual awards, earning the opportunity to head to Purdue for the state contest in May. Friday had contained the county Ag Day for fourth graders. Spring Fest, to be cliche, was the perfect ending.

When we were almost to her place, L said, “You know what you’re like when you go back to Purdue? A horse going back into the barn.”

Indeed. When you are in agriculture, it just becomes you. You become a part of it, and your life and job and interests ebb and flow together in one beautiful Force.

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