Sandy Sela-Smith (c) 2005
I know that Florida’s cold in December does not compare to the cold in other parts of the world, especially when there is so much snow like the North has experienced this winter. But as I write this to you, just a few days before Christmas, it is a crispy 40-degree-day…filled with sunshine and cold breezes that puff in from the small lake behind the place where I live with my dog, Jenny and my cat, Rachael.
As I write, this very minute, my windows are all open to let in the fresh air. In Florida, almost everyone opens the windows in the winter because they have been closed up all summer to keep out the heat and keep in the air conditioning. So winter is like everyone else’s springtime. We open our windows, let in the freshness, and breathe good cool air!
Right now, with windows wide open, I can hear the birds chirping in the forest. And I can see beautiful white Egrets walking along the water’s edge with their images reflecting in the water. Every now and then, I can hear the sounds of the alligators talking with each other in their almost elephant sounding voices, probably asking the other animals what caused the normal Florida heat to go away.
The day that I first met Samuel, was a cold day, very similar to today. Everything was crystal clear, as it is now…and fresh. On that day, I wrote the story that I am about to tell you now…
Jenny, my lovely little Lhasa, loved her walk today, not that she doesn’t always love her walks, but today was special. Because it is her walk, it only makes sense to me that she gets to decide where we go. Of course, I watch out to be sure she doesn’t get in the way of cars…and I do keep her on the leash. But Jenny leads the way.
There are any number of ways we can go…there are paths lined with oak trees that wind between buildings. Some of them have picnic tables nearby, and others just wind here and there. Sometimes she goes over to the long park, but she almost always chooses to go places where there are no other people or no other dogs. If she hears a dog bark, she usually drops her tail and ears and runs as fast as she can in the other direction. On those days our walks are short…and fast.
Normally Jenny runs away and hides from everything. If people walk close to me as we journey on our walking path, she normally hides behind my legs, and then after they pass by, she runs out in front of me, just a little, and barks at them, perhaps fooling herself into believing that she made them run away and kept us safe.
But today, she walked right up to a man to sniff his hand and a little later on the walk, she tried to get what looked like a 60-pound fawn-colored boxer puppy to play with her. His head was bigger than her whole body, but she didn’t seem to care. Jenny just wanted to play with her new friend. She touched noses with a couple of other dogs along the way, too, and didn’t once try to run away. All of this is very unusual behavior for a dog who could be called a “fraidy-cat.”
A little while ago, when fall was just starting here, a leaf fell out of a tree and dropped on the ground very near Jenny. She jumped back and tried to hide between my legs in a state of panic. She acted as if something wicked had dropped out of the sky to attack her. Then she ran away from the fallen leaf, at least as far as she could run on her leash, as fast as her legs could carry her.
But today, she seemed comfortable with strangers, with other dogs, and with falling leaves. Maybe what happened last night had something to do with today being so different.
Last night I had a very unusual houseguest…he came in the late evening and stayed until 4:00 AM this morning. It is not usual for me to invite houseguests in to stay so very late. But before you get too surprised at my unusual behavior, the guest was a beautiful bug with gigantic wings.
At then end of a very long day, I climbed up the three flights of steps and walked to the back of the building through the open breezeway to get to my apartment. I was about to enter my apartment when I saw a most amazing flying critter. He was resting on the siding in the breezeway outside my door. This critter, I will call Samuel, had a wingspan of about 4 inches while he was at rest, but they were much more extended in flight…He was about 3 inches in length and had 6 very lovely legs.
What I found fascinating about him was that his wings were the color of dried leaves…sort of a dusky tan with little brown and rusty red markings that made them look like veins in the leaf. His head looked like the stem of a leaf with rings and lines on it that made it look as if it had snapped off from a tree. The wings had notches in them that had an orange connective tissue that I suspect allowed flight. When I got very close to him, I could see that his whole under side was orange and the rest of his body was shaped very much like a caterpillar. His tail curved upward and almost came to a point.
I stopped to look at him and tell him how beautiful he was. He was still there when I took Jenny out for her late walk that night…and, to my surprise, Samuel was there again the next morning. By the next night I began to feel worried about my flying friend. I thought something might be wrong because he had not moved from his place on the wall in over two days.
I decided to see if perhaps he had a leg stuck in a web or if something else was not working, so I ever so gently touched him. He moved his wings a bit and took a couple of steps but didn’t fly away. Again I told him how beautiful he was, for he really was the most beautiful bug I had ever seen and then went about my evening responsibilities.
Late that night, when Jenny and I went out for our last walk of the evening, Samuel was still there, I walked up very close to him and spoke to him again. I lifted my hands up close without scaring him and let him know that I was sending warm energy to him, I held my hands a couple inches away from him, and as I sent warmth to him, I told Samuel that I loved him, for it was really true. However, Samuel remained unmoved. I went to bed and thought of him, sending messages from my heart to his heart…and I fell asleep.
Samuel was there Saturday morning, three whole days from the first time I saw him…and he had not moved the whole time from his place on the wall. I did not know the habits of leaf-like flying critters, so I didn’t know if there was something to be worried about or not.
Saturday afternoon, I came home to find that he was on the ground in the breezeway. It looked as if he had fallen from the wall and was unable to move. I held my breath for a moment, for I thought he might have died. When I reached down to lightly touch him to see if he was hurt or dead, Samuel walked onto my hand. He just stood on my hand, looking up at me and seemed to be perfectly happy.
A gust of wind blew through the breezeway, almost blowing Samuel off my hand. I lifted my other hand to protect him against the wind and cradled him in my hand while I got Jenny’s leash to take her for her walk. I decided I would walk to the back of my apartment building where there are lots of tall green plants, lots of grass, and plenty of other bugs that live near the lake. This seemed like a much better place for Samuel than on the cement floor of a very cold and windy breezeway three floors above the grass and the lake.
I found what seemed to be a large, bug-friendly green leaf and rested my hand on it to let Samuel walk onto familiar territory. He put two legs on the huge leaf and walked back onto my hand. I tried again, but he kept returning to my hand.
The weather was getting colder and the wind was getting stronger. Samuel would not go to the leaves, and I didn’t want him to stay in the breezeway another night, especially because the temperature was dropping another 20 degrees in the night, and he would be so cold.
I was afraid that if I put him out, he would die or something bigger would come and eat him, so I invited Samuel into my house. By this time he had walked from my hand to the sleeve of my jacket and began to walk up my arm, so I slipped the jacket off, carefully folded it and put it on my dresser. I got a plant from the living room and placed it next to him. Then I got a little plastic cap and filled it with water and set that next to him also. He didn’t budge. He just sat there on my jacket, very still and quiet. In case he was hungry, I took the corner of non-flower sprouted bread and sat that net to him. After a while, his front feet were on the bread, but I had no idea if bugs like Samuel would eat bread or leaves. At one point it looked like his head was resting on the breadcrumb. But I didn’t know for sure if he had eaten anything.
I was feeling concerned for Samuel the bug because if he didn’t eat what I provided for him, he might die in the apartment without whatever he needed. It was very late, so I turned off the light and wished him goodnight. Neither my dog, Jenny, nor my cat, Rachael can jump high enough to get onto the dresser, so as long as Samuel remained there, I knew he would be OK.
I lay down in my bed and turned off the light, but remembered that in all of the fuss with my houseguest, I had forgotten to lock the front door. So I turned on the light and walked out to the living room door and locked it. I returned to bed and turned out the light again.
I had just begun to drift off to sleep when I heard the sound of Rachael eating something. My heart began to beat very fast as I turned on the light, only to find that Rachel had gotten into Jenny’s unfinished dried food and was eating it by my bedroom door. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The on–off–on of the lights must have been confusing to Samuel. In the outdoors, when the sun goes down and it gets dark, it generally stays dark all night. It must have been confusing for the bright light to turn to dark and back to light so many times. When I looked over at him, Samuel was standing in an upright position, for the first time, and his wings were quivering…then with a leap and a flap, he flew to the top part of the cathedral ceiling in my bedroom, about 10 feet above my bed.
I knew it wouldn’t be good for me to try to coax him down, so somewhere around midnight I closed all the bedroom doors, opened my bedroom window, removed the screen so that he could fly out should he have the notion to do that, and turned out the light. He was still there on the wall about 1:00 when I woke from the cold. It had dropped to about 37 degrees. I was afraid that I might catch a cold and I knew it would not be good for Jenny, Rachael and me if dawn came with the windows open. We could wake to find mosquitoes looking for a warmer place to stay and fresh blood. I closed the window.
A few hours later, I woke to the sound of fluttering. Light from the moon let me see that Samuel was flitting around in my drapes. I opened the window, walked over to the drapes where Samuel was half-walking, half-flying, cupped my hands loosely around Samuel’s airspace so as not to hurt his legs or wings, and helped him toward the window. He flew out into the night with amazing strength. I watched him fly off into the moonlight, higher and higher into the air until he disappeared into the night and I could not see him anymore. Just as I released him, I looked at the clock…it was 4:00 AM exactly.
I am not sure why Samuel came to visit…but I was so pleased that he did. I am also so pleased that he has returned to his outside world and his life…
Just looking at him delighted my heart. I was so deeply touched by how he and his species had learned to make their bodies look like leaves and twigs to create safety.
Oh, forgot to mention something to you…I do remember a “conversation” of sorts, I had with Samuel that first night I saw him clinging to the wall outside my apartment, that first time that I walked close to him and looked at how beautiful he was. I believe that studying him so closely caused me to drift a deeper place inside me…and while there, I felt as if I was having a talk with him.
I told Samuel that through all time, all creatures, including human beings, have tried to figure out how to make themselves safe. I told him that we humans have done similar things like those that flying bugs like him have done in trying to camouflage themselves for safety, so I understood a little about him. He learned how to look like a leaf so that whoever eats bugs would think he was a leaf and not eat him. At one time or another, every kid learns to look like something that he or she is not in order to avoid getting hurt. And sometimes kids even try to act like something that they are not to protect themselves.
Then I explained that I was learning that in spite of what things look like in the outer world, that might cause us to feel like we are not safe, that we are all eternally safe. Bad situations don’t last forever and eventually, one way or another, we find out how we can be ourselves and still be safe in the world. Sometimes it takes a while to learn how to do that, but we can learn.
I shared with Samuel about the path that the world seems to be taking today and no matter what the present situation looks like, there is wonder in walking on that path. I told him I believed that eventually we would all finally figure out how to live in this world together and that someday, we would all be safe. I held this one-way discussion with an insect for a period of time and sent him love…from my heart to his.
My mind knows that I was talking to myself in a one-way conversation with a bug that doesn’t even know that his name is Samuel, and that I was not communicating with another species. But there is a place in my heart that knows that not only did I talk with Samuel, but someplace deep inside me a part of me listened to him talking to me as well.
He was a wonderful gift for a few days in my life, and a welcome guest in my home for a few hours…but I also knew that I could not take care of him…Samuel had to take care of himself. I know that Samuel has transformed my thoughts regarding the critters of the insect world. Not all that long ago, I was terrified of insects and especially of any bug-like creature that was big enough to name. After spending this time with Samuel as my houseguest, I now have a feeling of closeness to all the critters that live around me. I now know that I can talk with them…and that they can talk with me.
This morning it is sunny and warming up to perhaps 60 degrees. I walked to the back of the building at the end of my walk with Jenny and sent a mental thought to all the amazing insects that inhabit the lake area and preserve behind my apartment. I thanked them for who they are and what they contribute to this whole circle of life that we share for a time in this connected world. And I thanked Samuel for coming into my life, even for a very short time. In my heart, I believe that Samuel heard me. And somewhere in the sounds of all the insects that chirp and click and whir, in an amazing chorus every dawn and dusk, Samuel sends us all a song of love from his heart. ‘Tis the season to be blessed, especially by a bug named Samuel.
I wish you a very happy day and a beautiful year filled with deeply meaningful communication. Love Sandy