Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Caterpillar Girl

It’s that time of year again. Yes, it’s the annual migration of the hairy caterpillars from the mango tree outside to the interior of my flat, where said caterpillars seek out suitable places to cocoon themselves and so make the transition to fuzzy headed moths. What constitutes a suitable place is a mystery to me; there is no pattern I can detect. I think they are emboldened by their hirsute armour, because I find them everywhere: on the side of the bin in the kitchen; on the mat in the toilet; curled up on the carpet near my bed; making their way across the sitting room into my dining area, oblivious to the threat of my footsteps. Sometimes I open my front door and they rain down, landing on the ground tucked up into small pom poms, thwarted in their attempts to squeeze in under the door frame. The first time they arrived, I gathered them up with a dustpan and brush and put them outside on the grass. On occasion, when I was feeling particularly encroached upon—and still not sure to what extent they presented a danger to me—I would tip them out from my kitchen window and watch them plummet to the concrete below. I have become much calmer about the intrepid hairy visitors in the seven or so years I’ve lived here now—the longest I’ve lived in one place in my entire life (actually, that milestone was passed about three years ago)—but that first summer, well, I was not so sanguine.

The trouble was that the caterpillars were not the only creatures who had established migration routes through my flat. Once I came home and discovered that one of my pot plants had been seconded as a nesting ground for grasshoppers; there were at least a gazillion of the little green critters a-jump-jump-jumping on every available surface radiating outwards from the fern. (That time I had a flash back to another time in another flat in Brisbane, when I was in the shower—nekkid—and, instead of water showering upon me, a squillion baby spiders parachuted down).

Then there were the wasps who created a paper honeycomb nest which hanged from another pot plant, this one near the front entrance to my flat. They liked me so much they also came back over consecutive summers and felt welcome enough to build another estate just underneath my letter box (none near or on my very close neighbours’ boxes mind you). I suspect the wasps also issued an invitation to their cousins, the hornets, who have never displayed any compunction about creating their little mud caves on my ceiling fan, in the folds of my curtains, on my kitchen wall... My balcony railing and a window frame are currently anchoring a spider’s web from which I’m convinced it monitors my comings and goings.

Before the council took to mowing the block next door on a regular basis, I once hosted an amorous mouse couple. I tried to encourage the adult mouse I first saw to take its hanky-panky to a more suitable environment, but it didn’t respond to my efforts to relocate its boudoir. In the end I had to resort to poisoning—they were far too wily to be caught with traps—but meanwhile they shredded newspaper together, dined each evening at my fruit bowl, and created a little mouse door in the skirting board (nowhere near as finely an engineered arch as those made by mice in cartoons). It wasn’t only the mice who were attracted by the rat poison, cockroaches also seemed to find their way to the boxes of little green pellets I put around the place. If I found the dead mice in the middle of the dining room, forever suspended while running home, then I also found cockroaches who gorged themselves on the poison until they just died on the spot. Mice are cute little creatures, so I mourned their passing—if only they had stayed amongst in the grass—but I had no sympathy for the cockroaches. The kind that horrify me the most are those that fly in the windows on a hot summer’s evening. I was describing these to a colleague, recently moved from Melbourne, once. They are reddish brown and at minimum 5cm in length. They’re so large that their heads seem to be separate entities to their bodies. Their heads are strange and alien as they turn to look at you; that is if they don’t misguidedly fly into you first. *Shudder*. Upon hearing my description, my colleague exclaimed ‘Oh, are they those big glossy flying ones? They’re beautiful!’ I don’t think we were talking about the same type, but still... *Shudder*.

There is only one species, amongst those that visit me, that I like to encourage to drop by at any time. ‘Mi casa, su casa little gecko’. They roam the ceiling, lingering near the light bulbs when they’re switched on at night, waiting for exactly the right moment to dart in and catch the small moths that dance around the light. Sometimes they’ve been known to dash out from under the fridge or from behind a picture on the wall to ambush a cockroach and trap it in their mouths, head first. I watch their young grow up from tiny little wriggles with no survival instinct. I rescue the little ones from the kitchen sink, where they’ve chased after a splash of water without any forethought as to how they will climb out up the wet stainless steel sides afterwards. I admonish them as I create a wooden spoon bridge from the sink, telling them they’re lucky they’re not outside where they would have been pecked by a bird by now. I see the teenage geckoes become wary as they scurry away when I enter the room or turn on a light, in spite of my gentle greeting: ‘Hello, little gecko’. Sometimes their tails are stumpy, in recovery from a near death experience. Most of all I like to hear them talk and squabble in their high pitched tones. ‘Chuck, chuck, chuck’.


Tseen said...

omigod, K! those hairy caterpillars would freak me so much I'd have to move flats. seriously! probably not helped by the fact that I'm allergic to their 'sting' and come up in great, itchy welts. the thought of them raining down when I opened a door... *runs screaming*

oh, and happy NY!! :)

Galaxy said...

Yes, I'd always thought of hairy caterpillars as dangerous, but perhaps their danger is a matter of personal allergy. Sometimes I've inadvertantly stepped on one, but never with my full weight since the moment I've felt it under foot I've jumped a mile high in the air. I do react like a crazy woman when the cockroaches start flying in--I could make an episode of Funniest Home Videos, I'm sure, if someone was filming me.

Happy New Year to you as well!

Lucy said...

I was shuddering at the cockroaches (one good thing about the frigid northeast US is the lack of cockies!), but then you got to geckos and made me homesick... I love the photo of them.

Galaxy said...

It is a good photo. I wish I could claim to have taken it; it's from the website link via 'mi casa su casa...'. My photos can be distinguished by the lack of focus due to camera shakes.

I long to live in cockroach free climes.