Sometimes at lunch I go out there just to see the flowers and birds and bugs that live there.
It is under some big towers that carry electricity, so there are no buildings and no tall trees. There are lots of insects. They sing and fly around. It is very pretty.
Next door to my office is a school for teenagers. They are usually standing around the door first thing in the morning and they are pretty friendly, even though they must think I am very old.
One day, when I was walking in from the parking lot, a girl came out of the school with a strange look on her face and her arm held out stiff in front of her. There was a bug on her sleeve, a BIG green bug. She went to shake off the bug into the air, but I ran to her and said:
“Ooohhhh, give it to me!”
Really, what I said was “OOOOOHHHH, gimmee gimmee gimmee”, because I find making a joke helps people to stop what they are doing for a moment and think.
She let me take the big bug. It was a “praying mantis”. People call it that because when it is hunting or eating it holds its front legs together off the ground as if it were saying a prayer. When it is resting, the mantis folds its front legs up and looks as though it is thinking. Praying mantids (“mantids” means insects like the praying mantis, since there are more than one kind of mantis) eat other bugs, but they don’t hurt people.
I put the back of my hand close to its middle feet and nudged a little. The mantis turned its triangle head toward me, and then turned its eyes toward its feet and then climbed onto my hand.
The girls smiled at me in a funny way. I think she was glad not to have a three-inch-long praying mantis on her sleeve.
“It was in the office,” she said. “It must have been in there all weekend.”
“Perhaps it rode in on someone’s gym bag,” I said.
“That makes sense,” said the girl. “Well, have fun with your new friend.”
The girls went back into the school.
I was looking at the mantis to see if it would try to escape. It didn’t seem to be able to see, and it was feeling in front of itself all the time with its lo-o-o-o-ong front legs.
When bugs feel about with their legs in the air it is called “questing.” When bugs are questing, they are sometimes smelling the air! They don’t have noses in their heads like us. They have patches on their legs that let them taste and smell and sometimes hear.
But the mantis seemed also not to be able to see, because it moved very slowly on my hand. It moved so slowly that I was able to take it to my office and place it in a terrarium for the people in my office to look at.
Ralph is a man in my office who knows bugs. Ralph always seems to know the things that I don’t know, and sometimes I know about things Ralph doesn’t yet know.
“That’s a nice mantis,” said Ralph. “Why is is green? It should be brown.”
“I think it has gone a long time without eating,” I said. “It was in the office next door all weekend with no food or water. I think it can’t see.”
A man from my office went outside and came back with a fat grasshopper.
“Here’s a big breakfast for our new neighbour,” he said, and he popped the grasshopper into the terrarium with the mantis. The mantis moved VERY fast and ate the grasshopper. This is a thing I like about my office: no-one thinks it is strange to have a bunch of grown-ups clustered around a plastic terrarium watching a mantis eat a grass-hopper.
After eating the grasshopper, the mantis looked fatter, but also turned a little bit brown and started looking at everything. Her triangle-shaped head was turning every which way.
“See?” I said. “She is looking at things. I think she was so thirsty that her eyes didn’t work. Now she has had a drink of “grasshopper juice” , her eyes are working better.”
“Why do you call it “she” instead of “he”?” asked the man who had brought the grasshopper.
“Female mantids are bigger than male mantids,” said Ralph. “I have seen bigger ones, but this one is big.”
“What will you do with her?” asked Ralph.
“I will take her home with me,” I said. “And I will set her free in my garden. I have lots of bugs n my garden for her to eat.”
“Why not set her free under the electricity towers?” asked the grasshopper man.
“Because,” I said, “I am selfish, and I would like to have a big praying mantis in my garden.”
“Perhaps she will lay her eggs in your garden and you will have many mantids,” said Ralph.
We let the mantis rest for that day and over night. In the morning I brought her a dozen “wood-lice”. Some people call them “roly-polies”, and they are easy to find under rocks. Through the day the mantis ate a few wood-lice. Her brown stripes got darker, and she spent a lot of time sitting upside-down under the lid of the terrarium.
After work that day, I took the terrarium with the mantis in my car and drove home. As I was driving, I thought it might be a good idea to give the mantis a name.
Mantids remind me of different kinds of creatures from legends or other religions.
- Because they have long bodies with four legs on the ground and two legs in the air in front, I sometimes think they are like centaurs, from Greek legends. Centaurs had men’s bodies with two arms on horse’s bodies with four legs.
- Because they are often green, and big and eat other bugs, and are useful to us, sometimes I think that mantids are like dragons from Chinese legends.
- In Turkey, the mantis is imagined to be very holy, able to predict the future and to always know which way points toward the Holy City of Mecca
- In some countries the mantis is called ‘the Devil’s horse’
Kali is like two different people:
- sometimes she is Durga, a beautiful warrior lady that rides on a tiger and brings blessings to people she meets
- sometimes she is Kali, the Destroyer, the bringer of justice, very dangerous and yet necessary for the survival of the universe.
The mantis has ‘many arms’, is beautiful and dangerous and is a blessing to the garden because it eats harmful bugs. When mantises are hunting, they sway and dance to make their prey think that the mantis is really a twig blowing in the breeze: beauty, blessing and destruction, all at the same time.
In the Greek language, ‘kali’ is also the first part of many words that mean beauty or good luck.
While I was driving home I thought how ‘Kali” would be a perfect name for the mantis. But then I worried that my Hindu friends might not like me calling a big insect after one of their gods.
As I stopped at a red light and was looking at the mantis in the terrarium on the seat beside me, a BIG truck stopped beside me. The side of the truck was decorated with a beautiful and very big painting of Durga, riding on a tiger and shooting arrows from her bow. Perhaps my Hindu friends wouldn’t mind, after all.
When I got home, I took the terrarium to the garden and let the mantis go. She crawled out onto the leaf of an iris plant.
“You may call this your home, if you like,” I said. “And if you don’t mind, I will call you Kali.”
The mantis turned her triangle head toward me, and then looked ahead of her. Something was moving in that bushy weed, just in front of her leaf....