Back on Assignment; the Menagerie

13 July 2008, Pennsylvania menagerie

No posting for the past week because I spent the last few day in Pennsylvania with S. visiting her family.

There’s lots of nature up there, in lots of different states. We saw two grey down-covered baby birds in a low nest. They extended their gangly necks and waived their open beaks when they sensed our presence. We stopped in the road for a gaggle of baby wild turkeys in tow behind both their parents. I nearly stepped on a fog who decided that laying low until the last minute was the best strategy. I saw just about the biggest frog I’ve ever seen while walking a lap around a pond. One of S.’s parents cats, George, scared the shit out of me when he came galloping up while I crossed the yard in the middle of the night. He turned out to be just a cat, but when I heard his feet in the dark I didn’t know if he was a coyote or what. The deer are so prevalent that they aren’t even worth mentioning. Except maybe the one we saw cross the lawn of a notably manic hunter neighbor. We marveled that it managed to get that close to his house without getting blasted, but it turns out that for some reason he has taken favor on this one and has tamed it.

And where does one even start with the bugs? The most unusual black and white moth, more like a church window than a moth, tried to hide in a basket full of shells in the W. house. At a dinner over at the maternal grandparent’s house, a moth so big that it was mistaken at first for a bat, got trapped between the house and the bug net. Along a creek — what most people would call a drainage ditch, but from the environs was obviously a fairly important part of the area — something that looked and flied like a dragonfly but with colored butterfly-like wings flittered.

I plucked two beetles off a bush. They clung to the leaves in large numbers. They had a characteristic way of spreading their legs out that seemed designed to dissipate heat. Once in my hand, one pulled its legs in and curled up into a ball. The other ran across my palm, grabbed the other, rolled her into position and, to my surprise, mounted her and began to copulate. Part of me was disgusted to have these bugs fucking in my hand, but the other part of me was fascinated! I have read Olivia Judson’s post on paleontological sexology and all the different animal genitalia (“A Tyrannical Romance,” The Wild Side, The New York Times, 12 February 2008) and was thrilled at the prospect of conducting field observations. Their spurred feet dug into the ridges of my fingerprint so that dislodging them would actually be somewhat of a chore. He deployed from his abdomen a maroon colored device like my mind’s eye imagines the weapon of the second murder from the film Seven. He jabbed it into her abdomen and I could actually the proboscis pumping her full of semen. He took a couple of minutes, finished, retracted, and commences some sort of post-coitus ritual, running his previously confining appendages all over her. During coitus she had folded her antennae, like the rest of her appendages, in to some ultra-sleek shape, but now she relaxed them out and they began to twiddle as in a more active state. It’s amazing how much the forms of human copulation resemble those of the rest of the animals, all the way down the hierarchy. It was time to move on for the humans so I ditched these two randy bastards to perhaps another mate for her (all nature is slutty) or perhaps gestation time. It was a rare opportunity to observe something totally wild.

The think about America’s rural areas is that there is a lot more interesting wildlife engaged in natural-type stuff, instead of obsessing over the contents of our trashcans like all the animals in the city. Unfortunately, rural people think that the best way to enjoy nature is to destroy it, in that a significant portion of the animals that you encounter are various states of dead. A significant portion are roadkill. The weekend revolved around a giant country picnic that entailed a lot of barbequed cow, two deep-fried turkeys, lots of hunters and their hunting paraphernalia. The picnic was hosted on the grounds of an avid hunter who took us on a tour of his above-garage bar and game room. His game room included a real menagerie of dead and stuffed animals, skulls and antlers. S.’s brother (a meat-eater) commented that the place was like the sanctum of a psychopathic killer. One could imagine a Jeffrey Dahmer or someone similarly collecting and posing their human victims.

On the way home, we drove part of the way down Route 11 to avoid construction on I-81. Route 11 runs along a river and we passed a gigantic turtle in the middle of the road — and I mean gigantic! He was probably three feet tall and 60 pounds. Instead of the usual stubby little tail that most turtles have, he had this long, spike-rowed tail like a dinosaur. But he was a turtle in the middle of the road. Prospects: bad. He looked like he knew how bad they were, but had no choice but to cross the road. I though of insisting that we turn around and help him, but what would have happened? Maybe both of us would have been done in together. I can see the headlines the next day: “Man and Turtle Killed in Accident on Route 11.” Or for all I know he was a species of snapper and the fucker would have turned around and bite me and I would have had to chop off his head to get him to let go. It’s sad to think that a probably 60 year old specimen of a species millions of years old was killed by a redneck on a potato-chip run. Animals possess a dignity that humans ought not violate for their petty purposes.

Anyway, enough with the animals and the rednecks and my weekend. It’s back to the tussle.