I've been pretty big lately on the astonishment, the amazement, the sheer stupefaction to be had in beholding the natural world, and our duty to share and protect nature in all its guises. But it’s not all wonderment and appreciation. I might think it is, I might strive to be a good steward of the planet, but much more often than I’d care to admit, “chicken” is something preceded either by “grilled” or “Kentucky Fried,” not “the habitat and biology of.” The usual inclination toward the natural world for all but the most enlightened and granola environmentalist seems to be one of a foreigner, peering into another world -- perhaps an overlapping world, connected to his own, but a foreign one nonetheless.
A recent trip to take out the garbage drove the point home for me. As I carried a particularly large armload of trash to the Dumpster, I balanced an old can of baked beans on one finger. My husband had been so kind as to leave the quarter-full can out, so I'd sequestered the spoiled remnants to the front step and plucked it up on my way to the trash, my arms already loaded with bags. As the smell of brown sugar and bacon wafted from the can and I lurched unevenly across the parking lot, I felt a poking-creeping on my hand. I figured it to be an insect, or even a spider, and glanced over fairly unperturbed – the only spiders I tend to worry about around here are black widows, which are much smaller than the sharpish prickling I felt along my pinky and ring fingers now, inching toward the back of my hand. But when I glanced along my right arm, I saw a tawny, gold tail exiting the can after its owner.
I didn’t think about biology, or habitat, or the desert in all its awesomeness. I thought: Bug. Hard. Exoskeleton. Tail. Scorpion. Venom. Fling.
And fling I did, sending a bag crashing to the ground, baked bean remnants flying up over my arm, hand and shirtsleeve; the can clanking into a nearby curb – and sending the hapless arachnid spiraling briefly into the air. Its tail extended and curled; its claws splayed out ineffectively. It landed on the pavement, its carapace making a soft clack, righted itself and scurried into the bushes.
It was, of course, at this point that my landlord chose to pull up beside me. I’ve chatted with the landlord a grand total of two times in the past year, but as I shook-wiped the lumpy mass of week-old baked beans from my right hand and forearm, she approached and extended her hand.
I waved and smiled. She didn't stay and chat for long. I wonder why.