Larry Clark

Larry Clark

An adage that follows us around all our lives is “Patience is a virtue.”

People seem to have a harder time understanding that than do the supposedly lower forms of life that visit our patches of flowers and herbs.

I am fascinated by the large praying mantis. I have watched her all summer, starting as a tiny mantis and growing into a huge adult. She’s a little more than 5 inches long. A mantis sheds its exoskeleton to grow. It literally gets too big for its britches, but fortunately there is a new outfit under the old one.

I don’t know how many times it has undergone the change, but I have found two old “exos” that rapidly decompose, unlike the rusty beetle shell still hanging from a cedar limb a month after I discovered it.

The mantis defines patience. She doesn’t need a home, so no time is wasted with repairs. Spiders are patient, but much of their time is spent spinning and repairing webs. Missy (I call her that because I got tired of saying “the mantis”) moves ever so slowly among the heights of the Hylotelephium – also called tall sedum or stonecrop.

Tall sedum is a sturdy plant with hefty green mop heads that slowly turn pink as summer wears on. They’re perfect for Missy — almost the same green color. She will latch onto a stem and stay stock still, sometimes upside down.

Her head seems impossibly small for her size. It’s pretty much all eyes and mandibles. Her species has two big and three little eyes. She can turn her head almost 180 degrees.

I watched as a little cicada hopped from one sedum leaf to another. Quicker than thought, Missy had the bug in a death grip. It was only seconds before she let it drop, lifeless and drained.

All the while, she’s amid a whirlwind of activity. A plethora of airborne insects, including bees and dragonflies, are constantly on the move. Except for burrowing, social insects such as ants, bugs with wings are much more animated than their kin who walk.

Then there’s Missy, barely moving, waiting in ambush for her next tidbit. She’s slower than the fat spider with the huge web hanging on the holly tree. She looks like part of the sedum.

On that note, I wonder if a walking stick is ever plucked off a limb because some bird needs nest-building material? I haven’t seen any critter make a move on Missy. But, there isn’t enough motion to attract attention, nor do flying insects pay attention to anything but flowering tops.  

I admit I am patient only when fascinated, and I never tire of watching nature’s creations. There is symmetry of activity among the dramatically different species that allows everyone to get what they need.

Personal space can change in a flutter, but it’s rarely violated. The insect world can be violent, but it’s mostly out of view and between predator and prey.

I’ve seen all this many times, but I always take a moment to watch the many dances of life and the instinctive tolerance that is often rare among higher animals.

I also confess I had to turn to the Internet to find out the scientific term for tall sedum. My search terms were “stout green plant that turns pink.” And there it was (amongst many other plants of that description), something that could not be done with an old encyclopedia.

But I do not delve too deeply. I prefer a bit of mystery with Mother Nature. My approach may appear odd, but sometimes too much information short-circuits fascination. Like music. I don’t have to know every element to love music. It’s the same with nature and other stuff.

Wonder often is enhanced by learning through observation. It is prudent, however, to understand from the git-go that you mustn’t mess with any critter’s kids or their homes. Willful, random destruction is wrong. There are exceptions, like when critters invade my personal space.

You can gain a lot on your own if you pay attention, such as blind instinct is a lot less complicated than the ability to think and patience is a virtue.

However, do not conclude that patience indicates a lack of industry. Missy is slow, bees are fast, and both get the job done.

Reach Larry Clark at wryturlc@yahoo.com.

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