Jun 3, 2007

The Secrets They Tell Me

I love animals of all kinds, all the myriad tiny bits of living flesh and blood that creep or crawl or fly or walk. My coworkers take great pride in laughing at me for rescuing spiders from the office, or for catching snakes out of the parking lot and moving them back to the fields, but I soldier on. I don't think I'm changing world events ala' The Sound Of Thunder, nor do I count myself a reincarnated Francis of Assisi, it just gives me something to smile about, something to take pride in.

I cut grass for a good four to five hours every weekend, between my contracting job to the office and my yard, my uncle's and my mom's yards, and it's always quality animal spotting time.

I've seen a certain little garter snake around the house for years now. I know it's the same one because when he (she?) was a wee tadger I accidentally clipped part of it's tail, and I can recognise it by a little crooked nick that it healed into. When I first saw it, it was all of six inches long. Now it's a good three feet, and I always smile when I see him speeding his way through the grass.

I've learned not to instinctively slap at things creeping or crawling on my bare skin. In learning to block my inner primate I've been rewarded by finding myriads of ladybugs, grasshoppers and preying mantises on my bare arms or legs, as well as moths, katydids, and every manner of tiny little insect, some of them so brightly coloured it's astounding they can hide in green grass. My hesitation to instantly slap the tickle on my skin has treated me to many such sights.

Cutting close to the azaleas and the herb garden I've been treated to the sight of dozens of anoles at a time, resplendent in their green or brown coats-of-scales, and their more subtly garish cousins the skinks, all dour in their brown and tan striped suits, highlighted by electric blue tails and flame orange heads, as though each and every one is cycling through some sort of dirtied rainbow.

Butterflies find me particularly restful when I'm cutting grass. Many are the times I've been out in the heat, sweat pouring off me, covered in tiny, itching bits of dust and debris when I've been refreshed by something as simple as a yellow and black Tiger Swallowtail or a magnificent orange and black Monarch or Viceroy deciding that it's time to give the wings a rest and landed on my shoulder or hat brim. There they seem to like to ride along, fanning kite-like wings as though to give us both a cooling respite from the searing afternoon's heat.

This afternoon as I cut in the heat I was treated to a wonderful little dragonfly, one of the uncountable mass of little blue darning needles that blanket the area in summer. This one decided to be daring and followed alongside me for quite a time. She was close enough that I could clearly see each of her four cellophane wings moving, reflecting bright glints of sun, and the glossy cerulean blue of her domed eyes. She flew along for a good fifty feet with me, so close to my cheek I was afraid she would fly into me if I turned suddenly. I thought for a moment there she wanted to dart in and plant a little sharp-mandibled kiss on my cheek, but she finally got bored with riding along in the shade of my hat and banked away with startling speed.

It's always made me feel good to watch preying mantises crawl around on me, all machine-movements and green flash, triangular heads pivoting this way and that. I've seen them as long as my finger and as tiny as a fingernail clipping, and smiled like a child with a new toy every time. I've watched caterpillars creep and crawl their way along my fingers, and let's not forget The Adventure Of The Eyed Click Beetle.

This afternoon before the rain squall hit I spent a rewarding half hour in my shop turning some scrap lumber into a little four-legged table with short walls and three-inch tall legs to spread bird seed on. I found out that the ring-neck and turtle doves that live in my trees prefer to eat seeds off the ground, and instead of making them peck up from the concrete porch the leavings from the four hanging feeders I made them a little dining room table of sorts.

I went out to light the barbecue pit just a few minutes ago, and while storing the lighter fluid and matches in the big outdoor metal cabinet I saw a little green rain frog huddled up in the crease of the door. Now, I'm no frog expert, but I know that metal cabinet doors do not a hospitable frog climate make, and not wanting to squish his froggy brains out when I closed the door I scooted and coaxed him onto my hand and carried him to the fig tree. I tried to then coax him onto a tempting green leaf all covered in fresh rainwater, and failed. I tried to ease him onto a tempting branch still wet with rain, but he balked. Ever effort I made he countered by stubbornly moving onto some other part of my hand. At one point he climbed the hill that is the ball of my thumb and faced me directly, his golden eyes sparking, as if to say "You got yourself into this, bub, now get yourself out."

So I flung him gently underhanded, like a tiny green softball with long flailing legs into the thicket of my snapdragons, there to find his own comfortable frog place. I swear, Nature.


Scott from Oregon said...

On the last house I had, I installed a small pond near the house and tossed a few tree frogs in it I had found somewhere else.

I installed outdoor lights that had square bases that mounted on the wall. This gave a nice one inch ledge eight feet off of the ground and two inches from a light bulb. I used to get the biggest kick watching my frogs all make the march upmy siding every evening, to sit on these ledges and gorge on moths.

They fought over the best seats, I swear...

meno said...

I too love the critters. This reminded me of something that happened many years ago.

My friend and i found a preying mantis egg case one winter and pried it off the wood it was on and i brought it home. There it sat in an ashtray in the living room all winter, a curiosity.

One Sunday morning, as my parents and brothers and i were headed off to church, we noticed a line of teeny tiny preying mantis's (sp?)crawling out of the ashtray and across the end table and down its leg and heading for the door.

Thanks for bringing that memory back.

Irrelephant said...

Scott, I've always enjoyed seeing Nature adapt itself to our own misguided stumblings. My mother has a dusk-to-dawn light at one end of her mobile home, and there is a brown bat who has long since learned that the best bugs are to be had right there, every night. Great fun to watch him flying big oval orbits, in and out, over and over.

Meno, that's marvelous! I bought three mantis egg cases, oh, years and years ago, carefully tied them to low branches of my hedge and forgot about them. Never saw any mantids (I think that's the approved plural) that year, but from then forward there were always those wonderful stalking critters. I love the image of a little pseudo-military formation of newly hatched mantids single-filing for the door. *grin*

JustCallMeJo said...

Lovely images to roll my brain around, Irrelephant.

Thank you for that.

Irrelephant said...

You're very welcome, Jo. I'm glad I could draw them for you.

Vulgar Wizard said...

I had two blue dragonflies on my fishing rod Saturday for about thirty seconds; they moved as soon as I had the camera ready. *sigh*

skinnylittleblonde said...

I, too, have learned not to swat blindly at tickles of the skin. I've also learned to ignore stinging insects...of course, that took getting chased by a swarm of yellow jackets many years ago, for me to learn that leson.
Great blog...dragonflies are awesome!