Monday, August 18, 2008

A Bloomfield menagerie: praying mantis

(This is a continuation of the Bloomfield menagerie series, describing various beasties living right here within our borders, easily seen if you pay attention. It's to remind me and my students that nature isn't just something that happens somewhere else. )

I heard a small commotion next to the old whiskey barrel holding basil and tarragon. I crept over, expecting to find a small mammal, maybe a vole. As I knelt to get a closer look, I saw a large praying mantis hanging upside down, an unusual position, at least for the mantises that live in my garden.

I followed the mantis' gaze down through the forest of mint that grew near the barrel. In the aromatic shadows, a brown snake lay poised to strike. The snake lunged, the mantis struck back, Jackie Chan against the giant serpent. The snake fell back, but did not leave. Again it set to strike, and the mantis cocked its head with the steady grace of an aging dancer. Another flash of movement, again the snake quickly repelled.

The snake started to rise again, and then slowly, as though accepting defeat, lowered its head and slowly slithered away.

Praying mantises can scoot, and if particularly perturbed, can even take flight. This one held her ground. Maybe its a praying mantis trait, taking umbrage at hungry brown snakes. Maybe it was peculiar to the mantis in my garden that day. No way to know.

When the snake had gone, the mantis straightened herself back to her usual position, head up, legs folded in front; she regarded me for a moment, her head slowly moving through an impossible angle, then apparently dismissed me as harmless as she went about her business.

In my days in my backyard I have seen a dragonfly merge from its nymph shell, only to die an hour or so later next to its casing. I have seen a lightning bug successfully woo her mate as the two exchanged brilliant flashes, she half-hidden on a brandywine tomato vine, he drawing out a "J" in flight with each flash (perhaps her name was Juliet?). My children regard me as a little odd, "But it's OK, Dad, you're odd in a good way...."

On warm, sunny days, my adult daughter sometimes spends hours staring at the life on the edge of a pond, just for the sheer joy of it. It is one of the few times I allow myself to believe I was a competent parent.

All of this in Bloomfield, an old town bordering on Newark.

No comments: