As much as I would like to pretend I’m a regular suburban mom with my fancy gym membership and the overzealous HOA, I’m a ranch girl at heart.
My parents whisked us out of the suburbs when I was seven and even though I attended a crowded high school in the middle of The OC, I still had to feed the pig before I left for class.
I loved ranch living. Not enough to do it for my family, but still, it was great. We rode horses. We climbed trees. And…we developed a relationship with animals that wasn’t necessarily the kind my school friends had. They took their dogs to the groomers. Ours took baths in the horse trough. A classmate mistook my sister’s pet goat for a dog (really!) and many could not believe that we ate food that previously had a name. In the ten years I lived on the ranch, we lost nearly as many cats to coyotes and while I mourned many of them, I developed a certain amount of perspective when it came to the loss of animal life.
This is one big lead up to a very concerning situation that is currently occurring in our back yard. Something is killing the praying mantis population. That something is white and furry and named Pangur Ban, and while I love the kitty, I am distraught over the loss of each big-eyed green bug.
If I would point to a book that has invaded my consciousness, slowly transforming my vision and my soul, it would be Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek . I can’t remember when I first read it, but every couple of months, I find myself in a garden or forest or the lawn of an abandoned Irish church and her words come to mind. She writes of the mantis:
“In late summer I often see a winged adult stalking the insects that swarm about my porch light. Its body is a clear, warm green; its naked, triangular head can revolve uncannily, so that I often see one twist its head to gaze at me as it were over its shoulder” (56).
My son has about a dozen recognizable words. One of them is mantis.
We had watched one grow from a nymph the size of a lady bug. All summer, she glided up and down the growing sunflowers, her body growing as she captured gnats and aphids, small spiders and ants. She grew into a lovely lithe creature and then I found her corpse beneath our dining room table.
Tonight I found our cat’s third victim, not yet dead, but wounded beyond repair. As a child, Dillard watched newly hatched nymphs duel to the death in an elementary school mason jar. She remembers:
“I felt as though I myself should swallow the corpses, shutting my eyes and washing them down like jagged pills, so that all that life wouldn’t be lost” (57).
Every time I see a living mantis, something in me leaps with joy. They are vicious hunters, but their grace seems so wasted in the lifeless jumble of legs and antennae in my kitchen.
My daughter spent months convinced she would someday be an entomologist. We read hundreds of library books about bugs. I spent many hours listening to stories of her imaginary friend—an ant named Ben. The bug phase is waning, but she still loves the creatures of our garden. In all the months that BUGS were the big topic of conversation, I made sure to include a little classic poetry amidst the talk of cocoon vs. chrysalis. If you’re curious about what the great poets have to say about insects, you can save yourself hours of work and check out We Love BUGS: 31 Classic Insect Poems for Kids
, my edited collection. Also, several weeks ago, we found caterpillars and Audrey helped me put together a little story about them. Caterpillars Don’t Check Email: An illustrated picture book for children is currently available on Amazon for only $.99.
Every time the cat kills a praying mantis, another takes its place. I didn’t think our 80 square foot green patch could sustain more than one, much less three. Here’s hoping there is always one to greet us.