As 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.
The 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.