Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nice Bugs and Nonsense

Yesterday was Limerick Day!

A day to honor the 198th birthday of English author and artist, Edward Lear; known primarily for his “literary nonsense” and for popularizing the limerick.

So…in honor of Lear and his nonsense, I wrote a limerick to mark the occasion of finding a bug upon my floor.

There once was a bug in my kitchen,
A nice bug, but had no permission;
Rather than kill,
I held very still,
My finger became his eviction.

If you were expecting something dirty...

Good Lord---it's a bug!


Not ALL limericks are dirty---though literary anthropologists digging up the earliest limericks seem to concur that they do indeed have a smutty origin. You can probably lay the blame on that infamous man from Nantucket!

Actually, I found the bug a few days ago. A roly-poly---those little armadillo-looking bugs that curl up into a ball as their means of defense.

When I was little, I was informed that roly-polys belonged to the species of bugs known simply as “Nice Bugs”.

Bees would sting you.
Spiders were scary.
Roaches were nasty.
Flies were a nuisance.
And mosquitoes would suck your blood and make you all itchy.


But roly-polys were our friends. They were kind and innocent bugs that weren’t scary and you could hold in your hand. Also in this scientific category were butterflies, ladybugs, worms and my personal favorite---lightening bugs! We never tired of catching them in our hands in the summer and watching them glow inside our palms.

Despite knowing all of this, when I was very, very young, I picked up a roly-poly in my grandma’s sprawling backyard. I examined him for a few moments, and then, for some unknown reason (perhaps simple curiosity) I dropped him into a nearby spider web. Within a split second, a GIGANTIC pointy black spider LEAPT out of nowhere and pounced upon the prey. I was terrified of the black widow-looking spider---too terrified to save my roly-poly. And watched in horror as the spider injected its venom and began to suck the life out of the sweet little bug I had held in my tiny hands just a moment before.

I burst into tears.

I hid under a tree in my grandmother’s rock garden, inconsolable, for hours.

To this day, I think it is possibly the worst thing I have ever done.

Not vicious, but wanton.

Like a child with a gun.

When I first began to seriously write, one of the first things I wrote was a short story loosely-based on this traumatic moment.

To begin the short story, I quoted from a poem by D.H. Lawrence---“The Snake”:

"And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness."

To make up for this horrible sin, I have always protected the roly-poly.

Oh you may laugh, but I will go WAY out of my way to catch and release a roly-poly. And other “Nice Bugs” as well---but the roly-poly has always been my particular cause. Like Elton John with AIDS. George Clooney with Darfour. Or Paris Hilton with herself.

When I picked up this particular roly-poly, I was astonished to discover that he did not curl up into a ball.

He seemingly had no defense.

So, amongst all the other things-to-do in my life, I immediately went to Wikipedia in search of an answer.

Apparently, these “Nice Bugs” belong to a subspecies known as the “common woodlouse”.

While louse may sound very much like lice---a genus I would NOT refer to as “Nice Bugs”---they’re actually pretty helpful little critters. They help with decomposition, which is why they’re often found under old logs or dead trees.

Unfortunately, there were no dead trees in my kitchen, so I have no idea what this little guy was looking for.

And unlike other roly-polys---these particular “woodlouses” (for semantics, I’ll avoid the standard plural of “lice”) have no ability to either “roll” or “pol”. In fact, their only defense seems to be to remain perfectly still and perhaps you won’t even know that they’re there…

Oh my god.

NEVER have I had so much in common with a bug.

If I were a bug---that would be me.

It was late at night, and I had no desire to change out of my pajamas and go to the park across the street with a flashlight looking for a safe, new home for the little guy.

So, I did what any common sense person would do---I grabbed a pinch of soil from one of my houseplants and put the soil (and him) in a salt shaker.

The holes would give him air, and the moist soil would give him food and water till I could get him to a safe haven.

But everyday, I either forget him before I leave the house, or something comes up where I don’t have time for that “Born Free” moment.

So instead, I’ve become his caregiver.

Everyday, I replace the soil with new (though old and mulchy) soil. And I take him out to play.

I really HAVE to.

How much exercise can you get in a salt shaker?

He likes to come out and immediately starts walking around my kitchen table.

At first, he was wary of my hand, but now he seems to recognize my smell.

We play everyday. I’ve learned so much about him.

And he’s QUITE photogenic!

Of course, I know the time will come when I have to let him go and be with other roly-poly friends. Maybe make some baby woodlouses of his own.

Maybe that’s why I’ve resisted giving him a name. I don’t want to get too attached.

But for now, we’re quite happy together. And he’s inspired me to write a blog and even a silly little poem.

Poem-worthy? A common woodlouse?


That’s the wonder of both life and art.

Finding joy in the minutiae.

And transforming it into something that shows us all why we should never drop the nice bugs into a spider’s web.