A rare and lovely garden guest

poppy-356323_640 - CopyAs I rushed out the front door one morning, late for an appointment as usual, I saw a single leaf up ahead on our white walkway. It didn’t look like anything that grew in our garden, yet it seemed strange that it would have blown in from somewhere else. It was a very bright mint-green, about three inches long.

Then it moved, though there was absolutely no breeze that morning.

I slowed down and walked up close. I’m not much of an entomologist, but there was no doubt in my highly untrained mind that it was a praying mantis. I’d seen pictures and recognized the elegant and poignant beauty of its distinctive features—the elongated body, the small head (shaped like E.T.’s) on the long skinny neck, the long antennae, and most of all the long, spiky, folding forelimbs.

praying-mantis-868420_1280The exotic creature was moving, but very, very slowly as the mantis does. It seemed so out of place as it inched along: it belonged in soft foliage, not on the hard, barren cement. I was afraid for it because it was so green and visible on our white walkway, and many neighborhood birds would have loved to make a meal out of it. No doubt they were lurking close by, unseen. The mantis was far away from the only foliage that offered any cover, inside our brick-lined planter area, and it would have had to climb up the foot-high brick wall to get into it.

I wanted to move it to safety, but didn’t have a clue how to go about it without harming it, it looked so delicate. And I had to get to an important doctor appointment. All I could do for the beautiful creature was pray (no pun intended). 

I left for my appointment, and when I got back a few hours later, the mantis was nowhere to be seen. Our walkway was bare again. I looked all around in the planter area, scouring geraniums and spider plants and poppies and impatiens, and a six-foot-high densely foliated bush that I don’t know the name of. The mantis wasn’t anywhere. It must have been some bird’s meal.  The next day, hoping against hope, I inspected the planter area again. I didn’t see it. I looked morning and afternoon for a few days and saw nothing. I felt regret, along with guilt. I should have moved it, doctor appointment be damned. Sad but resigned, I stopped looking

A few weeks later I was watering the plants one still, breezeless day and a geranium leaf moved. The other leaves remained perfectly still. I tiptoed over and looked closely and there was the mantis. If it hadn’t moved I would have never seen it, it blended in so seamlessly with the green foliage. For a few months after that I saw it every now and then in the planter area, then I didn’t see it anymore. I haven’t seen it now in over a year. I’ve since learned that a year is the average mantis life span.

Though its graceful presence in my world was fleeting, the mantis changed my outlook. For one, I worry a bit less since I saw it sticking out like a bright-green neon thumb on our white walkway, inching slowly over to the planter area, in a neighborhood dense with hungry jays, crows, mockingbirds, even a falcon now and then—and surviving. You may disagree, but I’m convinced an unseen force had been there protecting it on its journey to the safety of the planter area, helping it over the little brick wall to the camouflaged safety of green leaves. It was the same force, which I call God, that protects us on our journeys, and that had guided the mantis to the bountiful smorgasbord that is our yard. My husband was born and grew up in Hawaii, where insects are accepted as a fact of life, and out of respect for them he uses pesticides very sparingly. Our yard is insect rich. The creature had been led to live out its days in a small paradise of nourishing abundance in a modest blue-collar subdivision.

My ethereal visitor, my guide from beyond, taught me that a magnificent order in the universe is always in place…even when we can’t see it because it’s hidden in the secrecy and safety of green.

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Want to make a cat laugh?

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Tell it your plans. I have two feral cats, which tells you right away that I’m a little crazy. But wait, it’s not my fault. I didn’t choose them, they chose me. Joe, the orange one, started coming through my backyard three years ago and, foolishly, I fed him. Soon he began to leave right after he ate and would come back with a small black cat following him, now named Jack. They would sit very still, with Jack behind Joe, and watch me intently.

I didn’t want to feed Jack—one feral cat seemed like more than enough—but they wouldn’t leave until I did. Joe was obviously taking care of Jack, seeing that he got food. It was hard not to fall in love with this bonded, loyal, black and orange duo. Eventually I trapped them and brought them to the clinic to be neutered and immunized. The veterinarian said they were about a year old.

Now, three years later, Jack and Joe live together in my patio. They still love each other. They always will. These wild cats travel together, groom each other, romp and play, sometimes fight but never very hard, sleep close together, and wrap themselves up in each other when it’s cold. They’re almost always together. Their souls are connected. The veterinarian believes they are brothers. She has no doubt that like nearly all feral cats they were separated after leaving the litter, located somewhere in our neighborhood, but somehow in the face of overwhelming odds they hooked back up.

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Jack & Joe

I think the main reason I “adopted” them and made a home for them in my patio is so they would have a stable place where each would always know where to find his brother. Living wild, it would be easy to get separated, possibly for good at some point. Now they have a home base. They know where to find each other. They sleep in their comfy beds in the patio, and wander around their old haunts in the neighborhood the rest of the time, periodically dropping in to their patio home for rest and food.

They always eat outside except for breakfast, which is served in my house at 5 am, 7 days a week. This follows the perfect plan I devised for them. The key is that I have conditioned them to like wet food, and I only serve it in the house, in the morning. That makes it possible for me to catch them and give them their flea/ear mite/heartworm medication every 30 days, and remove foxtails, and all that kind of maintenance stuff, and also to crate and bring them for treatment if they have injuries or other problems, or when their shots are due, and so forth. Outside, I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of catching them. Inside, I can. My brilliant plan allows me to give them some protection, from rabies, feline leukemia, ear problems, heartworm and other things.  

They’re quite addicted to wet food, which is how I planned it. For three years they’ve come in practically every morning for their can of Friskies. But now…horrors…SOMEONE ELSE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD  IS FEEDING THEM!! I’m sure of it. They’re not at the patio door in the early morning, like clockwork, like they used to be, leaning against each other, staring in at me. They’re no longer there to scramble in eagerly when I open the sliding door, practically falling over each other as if they hadn’t eaten for days, and gulp down an entire can of food between the two of them in two minutes. Now, often just one of them is there and will come in, take a few nibbles while the other waits outside, and then they’re gone, leaping over the fence into the still-dark morning. Or neither one is there. Only occasionally do they both come in, and then they eat just a tiny bit and leave.

It’s not a set schedule anymore. My plan has blown out of the water. Obviously they’re two-timing me. They have another food source, someone who must be feeding them something they like better than Friskies. They’re opportunists. Their only loyalty, besides to each other, is to the best food. I have to go to Plan B: Fancy Feast! I’ll even escalate further if I have to. Whatever it takes. Purina Gourmet Gold au poulet. I’ll even consider Tiki Gourmet Carnivore, but OMG, I hope it doesn’t come to that, it costs $22.45 for a case of eight 6-oz cans. But I have to get those cats back in here. They’re overdue for their monthly medication. Mosquito season is coming, they could get heartworm which can be fatal. I’m going to win those cats back, whatever the cost. I just hope I don’t have to go to Plan C, the surveillance drone scanning the neighborhood in the wee hours to see where they go to eat.

Oh Lord. Sometimes I think I made a mistake taking these guys in. I use the term “in” loosely since they live outside. But then I look out in the patio and see them playing, and then cuddling up together and grooming each other, and then sleeping in each other’s arms (I use that term loosely too), and I know I did the right thing. Jack and Joe belong together.