Two years on. Feels strange and I'm writing it. I'd hate to be in your skin. A couple of weeks ago, my son, Patrick, told me an amazing story (sadly, without this type of riveting video) about a Praying Mantis that hitched a ride from New London to Gales Ferry on his car.
It was a Sunday or two (or maybe, three) ago. Patrick told me as he was driving home from work over the Gold Star Bridge on I-95, from beneath the overhang on the hood right at the windshield where the Acura conceals the windshield wipers, the insect slowly climbed on to the hood and walked, even as he sped across the bridge (at the legal limit as all of us do, Officer) forward, towards the front of his vehicle.
He became somewhat preoccupied in the dying early evening light of late summer watching the road with one eye while with the other watching the Praying Mantis, as if a hood ornament, buffeted by cross winds as the car moved, hanging on to the very front of his car, while changing lanes and speeding up and slowing down. He sounded in awe as he described slowing down as he neared his apartment building to see the insect demonstrate impeccable timing in flying away just as he was pulling into his parking space.
We speculated, in addition to evolution and intelligent design, we had happened across a Third Way to explain the Propagation of the Species: Hitchhiking (explains the demise of the dodo bird; no thumbs). Imagine our disappointment earlier this week when our efforts went unnoticed and unrewarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. "Bloody Vikings"
I thought about all of this Sunday afternoon while trying to walk some laps at the track around the artificial turf football field behind Norwich Free Academy. I'm sure it was there, or close, on the first lap around the track over by the Frank Building for the Performing Arts, but I didn't see it. I did on subsequent laps. There, on the area between the sixth and fifth rings (sound like a guide from Dante's Tours, don't I?), also known as the walkers' lanes, was a Praying Mantis, about five inches long, some parts brown and the rest green.
I've heard all about how precious they are, how special and rare and how we should tiptoe around them and sacrifice sheep entrails in thanksgiving for having seen one alive. I've read reports (always located someplace else) of people being fined for killing them (what do you suppose THAT warrant looks like? And what if you asked for a jury trial? Do you offer an affirmative defense of temporary insanity...'Your Honor, I once had a pet mouse and .....').
I made very sure to make a wide berth around the insect which seemed to wheel in my direction as it heard/felt me approach through whatever the track compound is. By the fifth lap, I was wondering if it were possible that this might be the same Praying Mantis that had shared a ride with Patrick to Gales Ferry. There are buses-albeit, not many, but there are and they do have wings. What were the odds, do you suppose and how could you even begin to argue against this being the one and same Praying Mantis?
My cell phone, in addition to having Slacker (which was giving me trouble so I was using Pandora (Music Genome Project?!? Take that Nobel Prize Patrol!) also has a camera. I figured, as I headed into lap eight, I'd snap a few photos and send them to Patrick while he was at work, since he could have had nothing better to do but look at his old man's Ansel Adams' imitations and compare my out of focus shots with his recollections of what his Praying Mantis looked like.
One of the things about the track at NFA is the flock of sparrows, the little brown birds who live their entire lives alongside of us humans, with no fear of people at all. They expect you to show up at the track with a slice of bread or a handful of bird seed and they follow all the bipeds around the track waiting with varying degrees of patience for the handout. When the Wildcats football team is at home, there are swarms of confused and vaguely annoyed little birds on the perimeters of the field scolding all of us who'll listen for NOT paying any attention to them.
I mention the birds because as I had been (power) walking (in case my cardiologist is reading this, I added power, vice panting, which is far more accurate) for all these laps and had gathered quite a crowd of feathered friends-not that I ever feed them (the ingrates have no qualms about flying to my house and pooping on my car. Mom raised crazy children, not stupid ones.), to the point that they were landing in front of me and hopping slightly in front of me to get my attention (good luck with that, by the way; if it ever succeeds, my wife will want to know the secret).
One of the birds landed in lane five, about thirty feet ahead of me, as I fumbled to find the camera function on my cell phone and put my plan into action. The Praying Mantis may have had a lapse of attention or maybe it was just its time. It moved just enough to catch the little bird's attention and SNAP! was gone. I stared in equal parts amazement and dismay as the bird took wing with the insect firmly in his beak. I thought about making a citizen's arrest and then remembered, not even the birds are free-they are chained to the sky.