Monday, December 21, 2009
How a Praying Mantis Became a Chinchilla
Here's how the story goes in Big Bed Land: once upon a time there was a girl who moved to Indian Valley Idaho and woke up one morning to find that grasshoppers had devoured every leaf of every potato plant in her potato patch. Although this event in no way diminished her life-long loyalty to the Great State of ID or her growing love of the fascinating place that is Adams County Idaho, she did initiate the War on Garden Grasshoppers. First she talked to the elders of her community. Guinea hens, they told her. And keep a border of green mowed lawn around the edge of the garden. ("A moat!" cried Goat. "Excellent strategy.") Although many people in the county clamored every year for pesticides to be dropped from the sky, the elders shook their heads. "You kill 5,000 grasshoppers," they said, "and 10,000 come to the funeral." Wise words.
So came the guinea hens, little hatchlings that lived in a box in Monster J and E's bedroom. What a beautiful coop the beloved Monster J. made for the younguns! And what daring rescues he undertook when the little ones would get themselves in trouble in ways that only guinea hens could come up with... The crowning delight was to lie in the hammock and watch the adult guineas run around eating grasshoppers with lovely darting motions of their elegant necks. It was during this time that Monster E. developed an abiding affection for praying mantises, when she learned that they ate grasshoppers. She began to keep "pet" mantises on the porch. Although not confined in any way, these praying mantises would occupy the same place every year, and accept offerings of grasshoppers from the hands of Monster E. who knew how to hunt for the hoppers in their favorite haunts in the cool of the early morning when they were moving slowly. Here's a photo of one of her pets, which our dear friend Tom Trusky especially liked-- he enjoyed hearing detailed battle stories of the War on Garden Grasshoppers.
This year, when Monster E. thought that the porch mantises were gone with the frost after having left their egg cases as they always do, she walked out onto the porch one morning and there at her very feet was a praying mantis. Stunned with cold but not yet dead. What else could she do? She carried it into the house, found a jar, and saddled up the internet to find out how a person could feed and house a praying mantis through the winter.
This quest involved a 2-hour trip with Monster J. to the closest pet store that had crickets and meal worms. Crickets would be better than meal worms, but 2 hours is a long trip and Monster E. knew how to raise meal worms at home for her own supply because she had done this as a girl when she raised finches (she had pleaded for chickens but suburban customs frowned on this, spelling doom to hours of daydreaming over chicken magazines.) She explained to Monster J. how fun it was to raise meal worms, but perhaps did not notice his expression...?
Then came the transformational moment: she saw a plastic bag labeled Chinchilla Dust. Did they have chinchillas? she asked. She had never seen a chinchilla but had longed for one ever since her nephew Jeremy had described his chinchilla to her...
Yes, they had a chinchilla. An irresistably lovely chinchilla and Monster E's heart was instantly lost to this enigmatic creature. She looked at Monster J. (shall we say once again "beloved" Monster J?) who had in the past (wisely) raised objections to baby burros, pygmy goats, and indoor rabbits- though he did evince a passing weakness for a miniature horse needing a new home in the area- and he said: Yes! (Perhaps he had felt some nervousness about my sudden passion for keeping insects indoors and my occasional mention of reptiles?) "I like mammals," he commented. After researching the rather particular needs and ways of the chinchilla monster and deciding we really could keep one in our home, we made up our minds to call her Rosie.
Rosie lives in a room off Monster E's studio and a chickenwire gate can close off half the room for her and Monster J. to hang out with Rosie and learn Rosie's ways and talk peacefully together in the presence of her mysterious loveliness. When we went to pick Rosie up from the pet store, two Animal Ambassadors went with us. They had an intuition that Rosie might be something quite unique - a sort of hybrid between Animal and Monster. (Pocketnote from Bink: we are still working on this theory, and will inform you of our conclusions at a later date.)