If you’ve ever been outside, it’s probably not a surprise to you that there are things out there. You know, things: lions, tigers, bears – that whole nature trip. I often scan the darkness with my headlamp while walking out to the coop to see if I’m alone out there or not. I usually am, at least that I can see. But I think that’s only in terms of things large enough to have eyes that would reflect back at me. Certainly the tree frogs have been out there in force until it got chilly, and the wooly bear caterpillars seem to like our front steps, though sometimes it seems to be where they come to die. I fear we may be living on top of some sort of wooly bear burial ground. But dead wooly bears don’t talk, so I may never know. When I go out to take care of the chickens and it’s dark out, I often suspect I am not alone. The spiderwebs on the coop are a giveaway, but surely there are other things out there besides spiders, right? If not, why did I spend so much time on coop security?
With autumn here, my chicken responsibilities can be dealt with earlier and earlier. Sometimes in the summer, I would want to go to bed shamefully early, but it would still be light out. The downside of living close to nature but far from my job is that I have to get up awfully early to get to work on time. I didn’t feel right going to bed before closing the coop door, though they’re perfectly safe if I don’t. I actually leave it open on summer weekends so they don’t squawk to be let out at 5am. For some reason, weeknights are different, and I would force myself to be up past 8:30 so I could lock them in. Lately though, I can get my chicken tasks done even before my son’s bedtime. I suppose that’s the silver lining of shortened daylight. Then I can relax a little and go to bed at whatever ludicrously early time I choose.
A little while ago I was out doing my evening ritual of checking the food and water, and then saying goodnight to the chickens, and thinking again about whether or not I was alone out there. These positively extraterrestrial looking caterpillars have been out in the yard lately. They’re bright yellow and have antennae that look like horns. They don’t seem to be afraid of the coop area, which is foolish. Chickens don’t care if you look cool, as long as you are tasty. I even had one on my arm one night once I was back in the house. I have no idea how it got on me, but there it was. I put it back in the yard, and vowed to be more vigilant about stowaways.
So the night when I came in and felt an odd tickle on my leg perhaps indicated I had let my guard down once again. “That’s a weird itch,” I may have thought. Then, as it progressed up my leg, it turned to, “that’s a weird itch moving up my leg,” and then further to, “I hope that’s not a tick on my leg.” Then I realized the sensation covered an awful large area for a tick. “Oh no,” I realized, “One of those caterpillars is IN MY PANTS.” In a surprisingly (for me) quick motion, I grabbed the outside of my pant leg in my fingertips right where I felt the weirdness. “There’s . . . there’s something in my pants,” I said to my wife. She gave me a look. “No,” I said. “I mean there’s someTHING in my pants.” That’s when the strain of profanity that indicated I had no next move started pouring out of my mouth. I had trapped the thing, but if I let go, it would be loose again. “The pants must come off,” I said, and proceeded to undo all the workings of them with one hand, while still containing the pant creature in the other. I stepped out of them, released my fingers, and then shook the pants, not knowing what to expect. I half worried that it was really only an itch, and I was now standing pantless and full of swears in front of a witness. But as I shook, there, on the floor, appeared a reasonably large cricket. I understand it is good luck to have a cricket in your house, so it must be even more so if they head up your pants. Lucky me. I went to find a container to catch it in to let it loose outside, and my wife called out that not only was the cricket o.k., it was also very “sproingy,” so I’d better hurry up before it escaped. I caught it in an old takeout container, and released it near the wooly bear burial ground.
A more vengeful person might have put it in with the chickens as a treat for them, but in spite of the scare it gave me, I bore it no ill will. Maybe it stowed away on me because it was trapped in the coop and knew it was doomed if it didn’t. Maybe it was just a pervert. Or maybe I’m reading way too much into all of this. I often worry about the big things that may be out there sniffing around the chickens, but there are plenty of smaller ones too. I resolve to be more observant, and to maybe tuck my pants into my socks from now on.