when pictures fail me…
Mesmerized, I watch a praying mantis on the move. Inching her way up the front door, fastidiously unfolding her raptor-like, double-hinged forearms (legs?), she pauses, tilts her triangle head, and looks at me with preternaturally spaced eyes, pin-dot pupils piercing me with what seems like wisdom accrued since time began. The elegant antennae adds to her air of curiosity, yet nonchalantly she turns back to her climb; clearly my nosy presence is of no consequence to her mission.
I have returned to my seat and my page, when I hear a light thump. She is on the top of the old wooden ballot box that serves as my mailbox, landing on all fours, or rather, sixes, like a cat. Assuming she fell at all. Everything she does seems infused with intent.
The first time I saw a mantis fly, from my porch railing to my butterfly bush, I nearly jumped out of my skin. I don’t think I ever realized that they had wings. I look closely again, and see that the wings in fact resemble the tuxedo tails of a concert conductor. The color is not black-tie black, but dusty brown, like an old wooden clothes pin weathered forty years on the line. A sliver of sage green runs the outside length of the wing, or maybe it’s actually under—a petticoat. Out of respect, or fear, or both, I dare not touch to see.
Borne of some Darwinian Art Deco erector set, the mantis awes me with its design as well as its aura. The legs move carefully, even daintily, as the navigation continues. She stops to pick at the feathery spines of her foot, also like a cat, and I see the apparatus that will nonchalantly bite the head off her mate and otherwise add to the carnage under my buddleia each September and October.
I didn’t know, initially, why I was finding monarch butterfly wings all over my postage stamp-sized front yard. In my ex-city dweller’s naiveté, I surmised that they came to suck nectar from the tiny trumpeted blossoms, and then, tired from all the traveling they do, died a peaceful, natural death. I started to collect them. Coincidentally, I was seeing my first praying mantises at this time, and remembered the stern adult admonishments when I was in grade school that it was against the law to kill one. The proof that they have proliferated possibly due to a suburban myth is in my killing fields of a yard.
It has cooled off, and so time to go in for the evening. The leaves of my Eastern redbud tree, just next to the butterfly bush, are turning from yellow to brown practically in the length of time to drink a glass of wine. The buddleia has a few late-blooming stragglers, purple vessels tempting as liqueur for the tardy monarchs who will never make it to Mexico at this stage of the game. The praying mantis is patient, in the same spot for five minutes or more. A monarch flies high, out of the bush and out of range.
It might have a chance.
From Back To My Senses, 2013