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.