Was I in a Stephen King novel, I wondered? I was walking by the plants along our backyard fence when a single leaf moved. Only one. Spooky. The day was perfectly still, no wind.
I tiptoed up for a closer look. The moving “leaf” was slightly lighter than the dark green leaves that surrounded it. It was a praying mantis. I was certain, even though I know zip about entomology and I had never seen one. But I recognized the elegant and poignant beauty I’d seen in pictures—the elongated body, the small head (like E.T.’s) on the long skinny neck, the tall antennae, and most of all the spiky, folding forelimbs. It was a 2-inch-long work of art.
The exotic creature was moving very slowly. Eventually I went inside and when I went back a little later I looked everywhere but it was nowhere. Of course it was somewhere, I just couldn’t see it.
It looked so fragile, but the mantis is equipped with ingenious survival skills, mainly the mighty defense of camouflage, and strong front legs lined with spikes for gripping prey. And an inner guidance system for locating nutrients that brought it to our insect-rich yard. My husband grew up in Hawaii, where insects are accepted, and uses pesticides very sparingly. Our yard was no doubt a tasty smorgasbord for our visitor.
I didn’t see it for a few weeks, then one day a small piece of greenery moved on a fern in the shade. If it hadn’t moved I would have never noticed it, it blended in so perfectly. All summer I would see its loveliness now and then, unexpectedly, when a leaf twitched or greenery moved.
A little while after summer ended, so did my glimpses of the mantis. I’ve learned that a year is its average life span.
It was a mystical, magical summer of playing Where’s Waldo? It was always a thrill to see the mantis in the rose bushes, among the ferns, nestled in the geranium leaves. I miss my strange, beautiful, exotic Waldo.