When did I decide that nature was “icky”? My playtime in the water and mud last week has gotten me thinking. There was a day when nothing was taboo to pick up in my hands. Well, nothing that didn’t have fangs or a stinger. It was all fair game for my grubby hands when I was a kid. I couldn’t count the number of lizards and horny toads I have chased down and caught. Toads and their reputed wart producing capabilities were nothing to shy away from, nor was there anything to fear from a bevy of insects. Everything from cicadas to grasshoppers to lightning bugs were targets for most of the boys and not a few of the girls I knew while growing up. We played with them in the palms of our hands, until they were slipped into the jars, holes punched in the lids to provide oxygen, that would keep them available for entertainment again later. That’s all in the past, now, it would seem.
I have spent the last few years of my life avoiding any contact with creepy crawlies. Bugs, amphibians, and any other assorted repugnant wildlife have been removed from my list of enjoyable things with which to associate. The pest control folks come on schedule every few months to eradicate every hint of the nasty things in my business and home. Crickets are swept out unceremoniously with the broom, spiders destroyed without a second thought. And, slugs! How to express my feelings about these abominable gastropods? I have fought against these slimy, grotesque creatures for many years without success. They leave liquid trails behind their long bodies on the sidewalks and walls of the buildings, as well as the side of the family dog’s food dish. If I wasn’t half convinced that it would be a cruel thing to do, the sidewalk would be sprinkled with table salt daily. These snail-like creatures are mostly water and the salt actually drains away the water by osmosis, causing them to die in much the same way as if they were in the hot, burning sun. If I had grown up with them around, I’m sure that I would have delighted in the process, mean little child that I was. Alas, there were none of the gooey, wet critters in South Texas, due to the extreme heat and lack of natural moisture.
I may be repenting of my hatred for the common slug. Much like my epiphany in the rain the other day, this awakening to the joys of exploration was precipitated by an afternoon spent with my grandchildren. The Lovely Lady decided that the front of the music store needed some dressing up, so the grandchildren were invited for a flower planting party. For the last couple of years, this has been their domain, along with the Lovely Lady’s. The kids love getting dirty (as if that’s a surprise), and this job is tailor-made for that. The flower containers are wheeled into the backyard, emptied, and refilled with fresh potting soil. Their Grandma has provided small garden trowels for this purpose, but hands are much more fun. The new flowers are set in the dirt, placed there with either hands or trowels, then they are watered. After this, Grandpa helps the dirt-covered urchins wheel the containers back out to their accustomed posts on the sidewalk. During this process, the old man needs to find something to do while the kids are sharing quality time with the Lovely Lady. Yesterday, the time was filled with moving some monster pieces of an old stump, which was cut over a year ago.
Having sat on the ground for more than a year, it was a safe bet that there was going to be some wildlife under them. We were not disappointed. An amazing assortment of the scurrying, slippery varmints were to be seen as the logs were dislodged. I let out a yell and immediately, the boys abandoned their Grandma and younger sister for the adventurous task of locating every single variety of wildlife there was to be found under the logs. They chased crickets, pulled out a couple of earthworms to be moved to Grandma’s flower boxes, and stayed clear of the big carpenter ants that shuttled out. But, the slugs! They were entranced by the ugly, slow creatures. They played with them for longer than I’ve ever seen their attention held by any one activity. The little discoverers had them crawl on sticks in their path, touched them to the accompanying “Ewwws” that were automatically evoked, and then they blew on them. “Hey! These little pokey things on his head disappear when I blow on him!” the younger boy exclaimed excitedly, pointing to the slug’s antennae, which indeed were retracted every time the forced air hit his sensitive skin. When we finally called them away from their occupation, they came only reluctantly, running back every so often to see what their slimy friends were up to.
Once again, the childlike enjoyment of a simple, unexpected distraction has me reconsidering several years of single-minded rut traveling. I work, and eat, and sleep, rushing from one of these activities to the next, with no consideration of the wide world around me. When I do turn my nose away from my chosen grindstone, it’s just to notice the aggravations and to determine to eradicate them. Choices are made on the basis of expediency and the joy of discovery is crushed in the dust behind me. The little time taken for entertainment is filled with television, music, and books populated with corrupt and toxic ideas and characters; all the while ignoring the wide world around me. The world which was created by God and still functions as designed, continues to teem with creatures that go about their appointed paths; whether rapidly as with the ants we found, or very slowly as do the slugs, but I have rushed blindly on, heedless to the wonder.
A friend made a remark the other day about how repugnant bats are, calling them “evil little flying gargoyles.” You may or may not agree, but I’m starting to think that even the bats might be interesting too. What a marvelous and intriguing world we live in! I’m just thankful for teachers like my grandchildren, who remind me of its excitement and wonderful inhabitants.
I’m thinking that maybe I should plan a few more afternoons stomping through the mud and playing with slimy slugs. Who’s with me?
“All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”
(Old Proverb, oldest written reference in 1659)