Posted in Air, Autumn, Critters, Death, Earth, Eastern Shore, Exploring, Fire, Garden, Gifts, Life, Maryland, Mindfulness, Nature, Photography, Quotes, Spirit, Walking & Wandering

Beautiful and creepy

Gathering in the cherry tree at sunset.
Gathering in the cherry tree at sunset.

When you look at the bright side, you’re acknowledging that there is a dark side at which you are choosing not to gaze.  If you think that the darkest hour is before the dawn, you are moving from darkness to light.

~ Srikumar Rao

From darkness to light.
From darkness to light.

If you spend a lot of time outdoors walking the same paths repeatedly the way I do, you are likely to notice that nature isn’t all light and beauty.  There is a dark side to nature, and sometimes that dark side is seriously creepy.

If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine
you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.

~ Sengcan

Before someone mentions duality, and the nature of duality, I should point out that I don’t usually think in terms of dark and light when it comes to nature.  Nature is nature.  To use an overused and frequently disliked phrase, it is what it is.  Left to its own devices (without interference from we humans), there appears to me to be a balance in nature, including the food chain.  However, it’s a human thing to label and use words to describe our experiences and the things we observe in life.  It’s how we communicate with each other, and those communications often include judgments of some kind to help us express what we feel as well as what we see.  (Can you tell I’ve been reading a book by Alan Watts?)

It's getting a little crowded in the garden.
It’s getting a little crowded in the garden.

I take photographs of all sides of nature, but rarely post those involving death or what some might consider the ugly or the dark.  People seem to prefer the beautiful side.  I get that, especially when it comes to blogging and art.  Both art and blogging can be forms of escape, a chance to relax and let the eyes, the mind, and the spirit enjoy something soft and soothing.

Two for two.
Two for two.

So I thought I should warn you that I am going to show you something disturbing.  And creepy.  Decidedly creepy.  One more pretty shot, and then we’ll move on to the macabre.

Pleasant.
Pleasant.

My work is about the underbelly of the beauty of nature — and the dark side of nature is its indifference.  Nature isn’t friendly, nor is it unfriendly — it’s the perfect embodiment of the Other.

~ April Gornik, artist

Have you ever seen a Wheel Bug?  It is part of the Assassin Bug family, and it’s a bizarre looking creature.  It has a distinctive cog-like feature on its back, and no one is quite sure what the wheel-like structure’s purpose is although general thinking is that it is a way to alert possible predators that it will taste bad if you eat it.  Its bite has been described as ten times worse than a bee or wasp sting.  After the initial pain, there is numbness for a while.  It can take up to two weeks or longer for the bite to heal, and it might do some nasty things before it heals.  Best not to mess with a Wheel Bug.

I found a Wheel Bug in the scrounger’s garden yesterday near sunset.  She was having her evening meal.  I am assuming it is a female based on size.  In the bug world, females are often bigger than males, and in the case of the Wheel Bug, this rule applies.

A Monarch being eaten by a Wheel Bug. You can see the "wheel" on the bug's back in this shot.
A Monarch being eaten by a Wheel Bug. You can see the “wheel” on the bug’s back in this shot.

Wheel Bugs are slow moving creatures but as you can see, they are effective at capturing their prey.  They have a proboscis with a beak that is used to pierce their prey at some soft spot (they’re not particular about where), and then inserted so it can inject the potential (and probable) meal with its saliva which paralyzes the prey within 15-30 seconds.  The saliva also turns the prey’s innards to liquid which the Wheel Bug sucks out.  It’s the Wheel Bug’s version of a smoothie.

I think the Wheel Bug should win the prize for creepiest Halloween costume.
I think the Wheel Bug should win the prize for creepiest Halloween costume.

A couple of years ago, while I was still living in The Bogs (northeast Ohio), I came across a Praying Mantis devouring a Monarch butterfly, and it made me sad and angry until I regained my senses and remembered that it is all part of the circle of life and death and nature.  I wouldn’t have been nearly as sad or as angry if the Praying Mantis had been munching on something ugly or creepy such as a Wheel Bug.  (I wonder who would win that battle??)

The guy on top has no idea what's going on beneath him.
The guy on top has no idea what’s going on beneath him.  Or doesn’t care.

To be honest, I still don’t like to see Monarchs killed and eaten.  I wanted to tell the Wheel Bug to pick on some other species because the Monarchs are having enough trouble with survival as it is.  I don’t think she (given the size, I think it was a female Wheel Bug) would have given a hoot one way or the other.  Food is food.

The Wheel Bug is considered a beneficial insect in that it eats insects we humans consider to be pests (imported cabbage worm, tent caterpillars, and bollworm to name a few).  Unfortunately, just like the Praying Mantis, it doesn’t distinguish between pests and other beneficial insects.  Food is food.  On the plus side for the butterflies and honeybees, Wheel Bug numbers are generally low (certainly not high enough to be truly beneficial in the garden).  Many of the hatchlings don’t make it and they have to go through five stages of molting before they reach adulthood.  About a third of them make it.

In the cemetery. (Edited in PicMonkey to give it a Halloween-like feel.)
In the cemetery. (Edited in PicMonkey to give it a Halloween-like feel.)

Happily, there were a lot of Monarchs in the garden yesterday.  I’ve seen more Monarchs this year than I’ve seen in a long time.  I want to hope that means they are making a comeback.

Back to the beautiful things (although it should be noted that this pretty mushroom is poisonous).
Back to the beautiful things (although it should be noted that this pretty mushroom is poisonous).

Thanks for coming along on this bizarre ride into the inner workings of the garden.  So much has changed in the last few weeks.  The hummingbirds left us around the 23rd of September (perhaps to celebrate the equinox elsewhere?), and the migrating birds continue to move in and out.  I have seen a pair of Kestrels gliding over the meadows a few days in a row, and the Canada Geese continue to honk out their journey plans as they move overhead at sunset in V formations.  It’s an interesting time of year.

Three near the driveway.
Three near the driveway.

Be good, be kind, be loving.  Just Be.  🙂

Hanging with the fruits of autumn.
Hanging with the fruits of autumn.

Today’s joys:  Early morning in the garden, watching the butterflies wake up; a Mockingbird serenade; dewy grass and morning mist; the changing colors of the season; dancing in the woods.

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Author:

Robin is a photographer, artist, writer, wife, sometime poet, mom, grandma, daughter, sister, friend, and occasional traveler currently living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She finished a 365 commitment to get outside every day in 2011, and has turned it into a lifelong commitment taking one or more walks each day. Robin will continue to share her walks through her words and images on Breezes at Dawn. Older posts can be found at Life in the Bogs, her previous blog. Robin and her husband are in the midst of renovating the house and property they refer to as the Wabi-Sabi Ranch, 35 acres that include marsh, a dock on a tidal creek, meadows, and woodlands. Every day brings new discoveries.

21 thoughts on “Beautiful and creepy

  1. This reminds me of a conversation my friend Elissa and I had a while ago. She said, “I’m going to ask you four questions. The first is: Would you kill a person for ten thousand dollars?” Of course I said no. Then it was “Would you kill a kitten for ten thousand dollars?” Again, no. “Would you kill a hummingbird for ten thousand dollars?” Nope. The final question: “Would you kill a cockroach for ten thousand dollars?” And again my answer was no, which puzzled her…apparently 999 out of 1000 people would kill the cockroach, because they assign less value to the life of an ugly thing. That wasn’t actually why I said no…it had more to do with not wanting any part of my behavior to be motivated by money. I’d kill a cockroach in my kitchen in a hot second…but I wouldn’t do it for money. Anyway, your mention of the wheel bug vs. praying mantis in a battle to the death made me think of that.

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  2. Gosh you said all that really well Robin! I think we often err towards sentimentality when looking at the natural world too – of course only about the pretty things. Nature is tough, she is real. We too are part of nature and so don’t like the tough parts of our lives – yet they are the bits that hone us and make us stronger, better, wiser, more vulnerable, open, honest. We can see so many reflections of our own process and progress as human beings when we really look into nature without judgement, without sentimentality, but with openness and acceptance.

    Of course I forget all that the minute a big green praying mantis crawls on me 🙂

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  3. They say you learn something new every day – I’ve never heard of a wheel bug before and happily have never encountered one! Looks a lot like a dinosaur to me. I just hope death came quickly for the monarch. The circle of life does seem brutal at times, but as you say, nature doesn’t frame things as good or bad the way we do. It finds a balance…

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  4. That wheel bug was super creepy! Never heard of them before. I wonder how far north they range. The butterflies have been gone from here for a while now, as well as hummingbirds, I miss them! Woke up to our first frost this morning.
    I enjoyed your photos, even the creepy ones, but truly loved the monarchs on zinnias! So pretty!

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Comments are delightful and always appreciated. I will respond when I can (life is keeping me busy!), and/or come around to visit you at your place soon. Thank you!

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