James Flanigan

© Copyright 2024 by James Flanigan

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay
Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

It wasnít quite fall yet according to the calendar, but I knew it was coming. Although the days were still warm, I could feel a chill in the air when I left work in the early evening. My business was small ó a modest warehouse and tiny office shared with my one full-time employee. We both parked right outside the door in a parking lot that came alive with helpless life in early summer.

Snappers and red-eared slider turtles both hatched in June from under the tree overlooking the parking lot directly across from our office window. We sometimes watched the mother turtle laying the eggs and burying them. How warm the subsequent weather was determined when the baby turtles hatched and dug their way to the surface. It seemed unfair to me that the newborn turtles were immediately faced with a life-or-death decision. Head one way toward the pond and life, or tumble into the parking lot and face a lingering death or instant annihilation under a carís tire. The first turtle would typically signal the start of a couple weeks of me collecting baby turtles twice a day and delivering them safely to one of the two ponds short walks away.

Iím not sure why I felt such empathy toward the baby turtles. They were certainly cute, although the newborn snappers did try to bite my fingers despite being newly hatched. I think I associated the turtles with my father, as I have some distant memories of vacations with him on a Wisconsin lake filled with turtles. My recollections of him are few before he passed away while I was still young, so I treasure those moments together with him that I do remember.

In addition, my wife and I were fortunate enough to raise our family for twenty years in a lovely neighborhood named Lake Charlotte, which had a good number of turtles as residents, both red-eared sliders and snappers. We always enjoyed when turtles visited the creek on our property or our little backyard pond. I reciprocated by visiting them regularly when I took swims in Lake Charlotte and enjoyed seeing them sunning on logs as I swam past. At times, they would dive in and follow me from a safe distance.

I knew there were some large snapping turtles in Lake Charlotte that could easily remove a toe as I paddled about. But I figured that I would still have nine remaining if that ever happened. It never did, and we respected each otherís space as we went about our respective activities in the water.

There were lessons for me to learn from the turtles in Lake Charlotte. I marveled at their ability to take time and just sit still as the world was swirling in motion around them. I didnít do enough of that back then, but when I saw them watching the world go by, I would take a moment and join them. It didnít matter if I was in the middle of the lake. I would stop, float or tread water, and just observe the world from their perspective.

Memories and lessons learned were what drove me to collect baby turtles when they presented themselves in harmís way in our parking lot. I didnít save them out of a sense of duty but just an innate desire to do so.

But by the time September rolled around, I wasnít expecting any living creature rescues to play out in our parking lot. To be honest, I thought the creature I stumbled upon wasnít even alive. I was drawn to it more out of curiosity. I thought an intact dead praying mantis would be kind of cool to bring home to show the family. But there was still some life and movement in the insect as I gently picked it up from the middle of the parking lot. The chill had not killed the mantis, but it was slowed and vulnerable to an impending cold night. I carefully placed the creature in a box and brought it home.

Once home, the family was sufficiently impressed with the slow-moving mantis, but then what? I didnít really have a plan. I found an old plastic animal habitat in the garage and brought it into the house as a home for the slowly warming mantis. It wasnít huge, but with some sticks carefully arranged, I rationalized that our warm home was a better place to spend a cold night than the parking lot.

In the morning, I did my due diligence online regarding care and feeding of praying mantises. Even before that, I knew I would be visiting a pet store to purchase some crickets. Mantisia, the name I gave the mantis, gladly hunted and devoured the crickets. It seemed like the creature got a new lease on life, although I knew from my research that the end was likely near.

However, while Mantisia was alive, we wanted her (Iíll get to the sexing of the mantis later) to enjoy her stay in our home. In the evening after work, I would take her out and she seemed to enjoy climbing all over our brick fireplace wall. She never flew away and seemingly had no fear of being handled. In fact, she seemed quite comfortable sitting on my shoulder. I read that pet mantises can bond to some degree with their owners in captivity through hand feeding exercises. But Mantisia was a creature raised in the wild, not hand raised and fed by me. There wasnít that food-friend connection between us. Was it possible Mantisia equated me with saving her life that cold September evening?

It seemed a far-fetched theory to me, and I decided to focus less on the reason for a wild creature being so tame and appreciate what little time left I estimated we had together. Through my online research, I knew mantises had a lifespan of about one growing season. Eventually, Mantisia stopped eating, but she turned her attention to a very important task. She laid an egg sac inside her container. At that point, I knew we had given her an appropriately pretty name for a female mantis. Even more importantly, we had given her the opportunity to complete her lifeís work.

Just like praying mantises do after laying eggs, Mantisia died. It was the last thing she had to do in life. We were honored she shared it with us before passing on.

I did more internet research about how to overwinter a mantis egg sac. It spent the winter in our garage. In the spring, I placed it in the garden and waited for the yard to be bursting with mini mantises. I wish I could say that it happened and we enjoyed the company of Mantisiaís children all summer long. But it never did. Perhaps the eggs were not fertilized, but nothing happened. Weeks rolled by, and I lost track of the egg sac. Perhaps it was consumed or carried off by another creature. Mantisiaís legacy would not play out in our backyard that season. However, the experience of connecting with a wild creature will always stay alive in my memory. Iíll never forget the connection I felt with Mantisia for those few weeks.

I started writing late in life just a few years back. I have had a little success with limited submissions. I took second in a short story contest last year and was just given an award for a piece of micro-fiction.  I hope to focus on writing after I retire at the end of this year. This will be the first nonfiction I have ever submitted. 

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