Praying Mantis’s Breakfast

This morning I went out to the garden to begin the dismantling process. As I got there, I heard the trill of a very loud and distressed cicada. I could hear him but I couldn’t find him. He was somewhere in the giant fir tree. I stopped and followed the sound. Up, down, right, left, and then I found him, his wings moving faster than a hummingbird’s. You could hear the panic in his cry. He was upside down, caught in the jars of a brown and very mature praying mantis.The mantis was chomping down, his tiny head moving like a tiny saw. He had the cicada in his clutches and was unperturbed by the racket the insect was making. The cicada wasn’t going anywhere except in the mantis’s mouth. Summer fed to fall. Summer was autumn’s prey. All of it was being eaten alive.

After a minute or two, the cicada gave his final scree and gave up, gave out. He was dead, half of him already the mantis’s breakfast with the rest to follow.

I unlatched the fence gate (such as it is) to my garden and stepped in. I was planning a similar murder. I pulled every last ripe tomato from the vines and began to cut off each long, tendrilly limb, apologizing with each snip. “You’ve been marvelous. Thank you. I’m sorry if this hurts. It’s time.” I removed the cages and pulled up the stumps, shaking the dirt off the root clump before tossing them into the pasture. I pulled up the bean vines and the basil. There’s suddenly a lot of space to move around in there.

I passed the mantis meal in the fir tree and took the basket back to the house, turning the tomatoes and some of the basil into dinner – a delicious “summer pasta sauce” with mushrooms, garlic and mozzarella – and processed the rest of the basil into either pesto or freezer bags. It took forever but it’s done. Another growing season nearing its end. I left the flowers and the pepper plants. They’ll be fine until the first frost. If I have time tomorrow morning, I’ll sprinkle some hairy vetch over the bare beds. The cover crop will add a bit of nitrogen to the soil, feeding next year’s plants. Part of that damned circle of life. Everything must die and everything must phoenix out of the ashes of the dead.

A large part of me is sad to see it all go, sad to see summer end. Another, smaller, part is glad to let go of a chore, a thing that must always be done. And soon it’ll be so dark in the evenings that even if it was still warm and things were still growing, I’d have little interest in venturing out with a flashlight to check on things. We’ll turn inward, pull out the blankets, curl up on sofas and chairs with hot tea and books and plan next year – the things I’ll grow, the places we’ll go, the fun things we’ll do.

I’ve finished all the house changes for now. I’m nearly done with my bedroom. I promised photos and I’ll post them soon. I have things to hang on the last wall and then it’ll be done. I have no painting projects looming, no upgrades planned. I’m hoping to turn my energy inward as well, get back to my writing work. I have plans to begin The Artist’s Way again with a friend which I hope will help point me in the direction of my next Big Thing. As if I haven’t had enough Big Things in the last year. I guess I always need things to look forward to.

In two months, I’ll be officially single, something I haven’t been since……I’m not actually sure. There were 6 weeks in 1988 when I wasn’t attached to some guy but I was recovering from surgery. I’m not sure that really counts. I was actually broken up with as soon as I got out of the hospital which was not even the lowest point in my life. Not by a long shot. But I sure hope I never find myself in the jaws of another praying mantis. I never want to be someone’s prey again.

Running Over Frogs on a Summer Night

On a dark humid summer night ten years ago, I strapped a colicky baby in her car seat and went for a drive. The baby would quiet down in the car as long as it was moving and one nice benefit to living in the country is that you can move for a long time without stopping for anything.

Ten minutes of sweet silence passed until I made a turn and discovered, too late and to my horror, that the road was completely covered in tiny frogs. They were crossing the road from (I guess) one marshy area to another. I was going 40 mph at least and even if I’d slammed on the breaks, the damage would have been done. Hundreds of frogs died that night under the wheels of my car in sacrifice to my desperate need to make this baby shut the hell up and give me a break. Because I knew, as soon as the drive was over and I pulled up the driveway, she’d start screaming again.

So I kept going, kept squishing, kept cringing and apologizing (in my head). Death is everywhere. All the time.

This year has felt like a series of deaths, of sacrificing frogs for a greater good, a better life, a happier me. I can’t stop the train wreck from happening – one financial disaster after another, one more discovery of just how much shit I’d allowed myself to put up with for years (years!) – but can only hope that the good outweighs the bad. I don’t really believe that “things happen for a reason” but I do think that how you handle those things determines the future, good or bad. I’ve handled a lot of bad this year and I’ve received quite a bit of good. Maybe it balances out. Maybe it’s not supposed to. I’m not the Answer Person. I’m still the Questioner.

In two months, I will be officially free. I’m not really sure what I want after that other than just peace of mind. I’m not sure I’m dateable anymore. I’m not sure there’s anyone out there I’d want to waste my time with. I’m a little (no, a lot) afraid to trust anyone. Everyone my age has so much baggage. I don’t know how much of someone else’s I want to deal with. I cannot imagine who I’d meet that I’d want to see more than once. All those frogs and no princes.

I’ve spent this year learning to say no, learning when to recognize when I’m doing too much (an old bad habit that grew out of a narcissistic upbringing and a co-dependent marriage), trying too hard, caring too much and wasting my time on things I shouldn’t. I’m figuring out where I fit in, what I want, where I want to go. I spent a glorious weekend in the mountains with four fabulous women and we wrote and wrote and shared and laughed and it was just so comfortable and perfect I was sad to leave. But the weekend ushered in two weeks of…..what was it? Contentment. Something I didn’t recognize at first. I’m not sure I’d ever felt it before. Each day, despite the frustrations and set backs and the ever present fear of financial ruin, each day gets a little better.

I’m fat and poor and I drink too much but I’ve also accomplished a lot, especially in my house. My bedroom is painted and the décor is 3/4 finished. My closet is organized, mostly. I’m beginning to see a time when I can spend my weekends NOT painting or throwing things out or moving stuff around. Of doing, doing, doing. I’ve got a computer again and I need to really start using it. Characters are speaking and becoming insistent that I write this shit down. Okay! Uncle! I will. I promise. I will.

These days when I drive around at night down dark country roads, the children are merry and we fight over radio stations and the music covers up the sound of wildlife being squished (I also don’t travel down that road at night anymore). I’m sure there will be plenty more frogs to run over and plenty more annoyances and frustrations and nights spent panicking about money and getting things done but it’s better. It’s a lot better.