The new house I bought several years ago came complete with a barren dirt floor for a backyard. Nothing lived there. Nothing could. The ground was hard as rock. So I decided to do something about its forlornness, by opting to give back to the Earth what the house’s construction had taken. I would make a mini wilderness out of the confines of my back yard.
It’s not that difficult. Just throw out some grass seeds of varying types, wild flower pods, a little horse manure from the stables down the road, lots of water, and life, as they say, finds its own way. Everything began to grow in what was once a barren, brown, rock-hard nothingness: varying heights of grass, clover mixed with small purple and white wild flowers, vibrant sticker bushes and other nameless flora, all creating a jungle of oxygen-bearing, sun-shielding life forms.
Now a hospitable place, in they came, the critters from everywhere: snails and butterflies, grasshoppers and wasps, dragonflies and a host of spiders. There were now lizards crawling the fences and along the branches of an unnamed tree. And there were frogs, sometimes snakes, toads, and moles, gophers, and the occasional hummingbird. A menagerie of wildlife, if you will, right smack in the middle of suburbia.
One night, the cats and I sat on the cool, linoleum floor of the kitchen, waiting for the mouse to emerge from behind the refrigerator so we could, well, do as we wished with her. They wished to play, maybe eat her, and I wished to rescue her, take the little beastie outside where she belonged.
We sat for some time, about two a.m., listening to the scratchings and tell-tale movements of the furry quadroped with the long tail. And we waited patiently because it was early morning and there were no phones ringing, no faxes printing, no email letters chiming. It was almost absolutely quiet in the house, except for, well, the stirrings of a mouse.
I was armed with a large plastic bowl and cardboard lid. Somehow, I would capture the little thing with the aid of the cats whom, I was certain, were as interested in the seizure as I was. It reminded me of my mother’s insect-rescue contraption: a see-through plastic cup. My cousin had spied it sitting upside down on the kitchen counter one afternoon; he’d read, in my mother’s handwriting, that the “device” was a “cricket catcher,” so marked to keep my father from washing it unnecessarily. For a long time, my cousin studied it, puzzled, we could tell, until he finally had to ask, “So, how does that thing work?”
Ah, city folk.
Finally, the scurrying furry beastie began to emerge from beneath the refrigerator, her footsteps quite audible on the linoleum as she approached the appliance’s edge. She was moving slowly enough, or so it sounded, drawing closer inch by inch, that I was certain I’d catch the rodent before the cats would.
And then out she came from underneath the frig: a caramel-colored, eight-legged spider the size of a gopher. And as much as I admit to loving spiders (they live in and outside the house), this one did send a chill down my spine. I was not prepared for an arachnid of that size — one I could HEAR as it explored my kitchen.
Still, despite the scare to both myself and the cats, I trapped the beast beneath the bowl, slid the cardboard under its eight legs, and promptly deposited it in the jungle behind the house.
I watched the spider in the lamp light, fascinated as it hesitated at the edge of the cardboard, its caramel color blending so nicely. The creature had to be bigger than any mouse I’d expected. “You’ll be sorry,” I heard my family’s echo as they once surveyed the overgrown yard. “Every critter imaginable will find its way here.”
And even the unimaginable ones, I quipped that night to myself.
But as the spider slowly disappeared under a bed of four-leafed clover and wild flowers, into the night that was alive with sound and movement, out among the lizards and toads, butterflies and bees, grasshoppers and crickets, I finally realized it was me who had been the visitor — and who had just moved home.
An owl broke the silence on a branch in the unnamed tree above me.” Hoot-hoot-hooty-hoot-hoot.” “Every critter imaginable will find its way here,” I heard their warning again, and I smiled into the moonlit blackness. Yes, I thought, that was the point.