Tuesday, August 03, 2004

This Week's Zoo

Bottle of beetles beside me, twenty or so bugs in a jar, an instant zoo, captured examples of a species thick at the front of my house and wild on my lampshades. My neighbor claims they feed off the Honey Locust that grows near the garbage cans but I’ve seen no evidence of that. I didn’t see a single bug in the tree and I didn’t find anything like these beetles when I went to look up Honey Locust-feeders on Google. They just seem to be around here. Indeed, I’ve caught one or two almost weekly since I moved in back in January but it’s turned into an infestation. One is crawling up the hair on my legs like a monkey treading atop a jungle canopy.

The bodies of these bugs are like exclamation points without the period, dark gray wings rimmed with lines of orange that form a chevron on the bug’s stern, separating a shiny black dome at the tip where the wings terminate. Although deft climbers on the south-facing windows of my house, their long, spindly legs appear almost useless for ascending the concavity of a marshmallow jar’s interior – they make it about half way up and then tumble to the bottom. There, on their backs, their patterns of orange and black bellies belies a variegated individuality, genetic diversity not otherwise evident.

I’ve been thinking of buying Lilly a hamster but these beetles have become instant pets on the fly. There’s no chance for emotional attachment to a beetle that, given its demise (my preferred method being the clockwise exit down the drain), can be replaced by any one of hundreds of candidates crawling on my lampshades. For now, Lilly thinks they’re cute, Marni snatches at them like a kitten, and Zeke, when he can catch one, summarily executes them with his overly enthusiastic scrutiny.

Nominally Buddhist, I try to teach my children respect for all life. However, I must admit some admiration at how adept Zeke is at expediting a beetle’s brief spin on its mortal coil. It beats Raid for God’s sake and at least Zeke is fascinated with our local fauna. His hasty dispatch of the little bastards is efficient and immediate; his sisters know that once between Mister’s fingers, the beetle is toast. He’s all, “Uh OH!” and onto the next beetle.

This zoological exhibit at my elbow is likewise ephemeral; tomorrow, the beetles go free, to the Colorado State University Extension Office where I’ll find out what these damn things are. The kids will love the trip and I’ll get to find out how to deal with these visitors. We’ll march right in there and demand to know what these are and what I need to do about them while the kids are doted on. That’s the American Way.

My way is to look at this jar while listening to Enrico Morricone, eyeing the insects like I’m the Man With No Name, a squint of cold disregard and contempt. A twist of my hand on the lid and these little buggers would be surfing the toilet to the sewer. But that’s not my way. I figure they have a reason for being and until I know they’re the reason for trees falling down or my foundation crumbling, they’ll get a fair chance to thrive. If the CSU Extension Office deems them benign, they’ll be free to fly and find themselves another lampshade.

I suppose the point of all of this is that I try to maintain a certain amount of consistency with my children, consistency of thought, purpose, conducting myself with other beings in the universe. If I don’t know, I look it up, ask the experts, find out if our little menagerie is not part of some malignant scourge. If I intend to teach respect, I’d better practice it in my own affairs. If I say that everything deserves its chance – as long as it’s not impinging on my chance – then it deserves its shot (Yellowjackets, bill collectors, and nazis need not apply). “Do as I say, not as I do” gets nothing done.

The kids can have their little zoo for now; maybe a hamster or a kitty or a puppy later on but for now, beetles will do. I’m not concerned with Zeke squeezing the brains out of beagle, more me dealing with three small children and a baby animal. I only have so much patience. As long as my brood is content with bugs in a jar and aren’t tossing the creatures into the microwave, I’ll continue to count my blessings.