The creatures that congregated on my porch last night were of the diminutive variety. A heavy rain had left the garden glistening and dripping, and it seemed they had in come for shelter. Standing out against the white tiles at neat and respectable distances from each other were: a chunky brown cricket; a miniature glossy-shelled snail; a slender worm that might have been a baby snake; and a long green quivering insect, like a cross between a grasshopper and a dragonfly. Up against the fly screen hovered a beige winged cockroach, whiskers quivering, as if waiting for permission to enter.
I stepped gingerly around them to pull my garden grille-gate shut, conducting very brief gestures of welcome. It is always a gift to be visited by wild life, however tiny, especially when they seem to present themselves as if on public display.…
My meetings with wild creatures of the city have been few and far between. The dish where I feed my cat is always attended by a long march of diligent ants. Though I clean them away when necessary, I make sure to leave one kibble on the floor beside the bowl for their takeaway home-delivery supply.
Of the larger sort, I have occasionally been visited by mongooses. The long grey rat-nosed creatures dart around feverishly, usually mum followed by two energetic kiddies, and weave their way through my tiny jungle enclave as I watch, always hoping they would stay a little longer. They rarely ascend to the porch because, yes, they’re shy.
The Snake at the Water Trough
DH Lawrence wrote a poem about a snake that came to his water trough…a poem evoking the tropical heat, the unfamiliarity, the wariness, and the gentle sense of a dangerous intruder whose presence must be accommodated.
I always loved the feeling of mystery in his waiting in pyjamas on a hot morning, taking his turn with his water pitcher while the other creature of the earth has her fill. After all, she got there first.
They all got there first. It is so easy in a big city to forget that we share this world with other, smaller, more humble creatures whose right to occupy the terrain is as great as ours. Maybe more so.
How we relate to them is reflected in how we relate to each other. Creatures of prey with their front-forward eyes will do their thing – must do their thing – whether we can bear it or not. Watching a video of a lion chasing an antelope, we root for the antelope even while we know that the lion must eat. Seeing the hungry polar bear search for her slippery seal, we want the seal in all its blubbery innocence not to die, even though we know the bear is desperate for food.
We want wildlife to suit our needs. We want it not to mind us. We all want a happy ending.
Suspended across my porch is an overhang thick with morning glory and other creepers. It reminds me warmly of my days in Tuscany and it keeps the hot tropical sun away.
If I sit at my garden window, I can see, first, the porch with the shady vine stretching above it, and beyond, the miniature jungle I lovingly nurture whenever I am here.
The Kite and the Mouse
Not long ago, when I was sitting at this window, a grey mouse unexpectedly ran up the steps towards me and, once on the porch tiles, stopped stock still and twitched a moment in my direction. But no sooner had she arrived, and no sooner had I delighted in her visit, than a giant winged creature swooped in under the awning not three feet away from me, lifted the little mouse, with whom I was already in love, and vanished out the other side with its prey in its claws.
It was over in five seconds.
How could I have loved the little mouse more than the energetic kite? How could I have chosen?
Choosing between the mouse and the bird, the roach and the gecko, the slimy snake-worm that must have wriggled up the drain, and the dengue-dangerous mosquito that hums around it…
In the universal scheme of things it all seems such a violence.