Ruthie’s Lesson

Grampa found a large property he bought in North Miami he called “the ranch.” Mom took me there when I was eight and pleaded to take my new BB gun to use on a visit. I took target practice on mangrove and palm trees, rocks, and fences as I wandered around a few acres of undeveloped land with many trees, shrubs, and swampy areas, and imagined my adventure took me through a jungle. Something blue covering the ground under some white mangrove trees moved near a saltwater swamp. As I approached, parts of the blue carpet were Blue Land crabs that congregated there in the thousands.  They frightened me with their large claw that looked dangerous, scurried around more quickly than I imagined, and resembled large spiders.                                Bigger than tarantulas, they had an outer covering that appeared a kind of armor. They scattered together in groups when I ran at them and resembled tanks moving in unison to one side or the other. Mom had taken me to see war movies about our Army fighting with rifles in World War II that made me march around the dinner table singing military songs with my toy gun on my shoulder pretending to be a soldier while Mom and Ruthie cheered me on.  In the wild foliage with my BB gun as if in battle, I ran after the moving targets, the enemy crabs. They retreated and lifted their claws in hopeless defense. They scuttled under trees in a moist boggy area that reeked with an odd smell like that of dank garbage.  Determined to win the battle, I pursued my fleeing enemy.  Shooting ahead of the direction they scooted, I killed at least twenty scampering creatures. Stalking them around trees and shrubs in the heat of the day, my face became sweaty and the putrid odor emanating from the wet marsh nauseated me. As I backtracked in an easterly direction, a lively chirping sound greeted me. The source came from a partially hidden silhouette of a small bird sitting on a branch in the shade.  Silently slithering past a thick stand of hardwood trees about twenty feet away, fearing it would fly away soon, I took care not to frighten it and held my breath. With my rifle butt against my right shoulder and the barrel pointing at my singing target, I took careful aim and my index finger squeezed the trigger slowly when part of the bird appeared in my sights. POW! Silently my prey fell to the ground from a direct hit ending the warbling. I ran up to see the result of my spectacular shot. His colors slowly displayed themselves when I lifted his limp body in my hand and held him in sunlight to illuminate my victim.                                                 He had a deep blue head, a blotch of bright yellow on his back that turned green on the wings followed by a patch of black. His chest was red. An orange circle wound around his black eyes and his beak was a white-gray. None of these brilliant colors was visible from the distance where I first spotted the singing beauty. My shot had killed the most colorful and melodious bird I had ever observed. Tears rolled from my eyes and I began sobbing uncontrollably for I had killed one of nature’s most splendid creations. How could I have ended such a bird’s life? A guilty feeling came over me for this merciless deed. Heartbroken, crying and holding a limp trophy in my hands, I stumbled in oblivion toward home. “What’s wrong dear?" said Ruthie as tears rolled down my cheeks. She hugged me to try to console me. “I just killed this helpless bird with my BB gun.” “Why that’s a painted bunting. I can see you are sad for ending its life. We must never kill anything nature created unless it is truly harming someone. That bird contributed his beauty and singing to our backyard. All living creatures have a place in nature we should respect.” “I feel bad I killed it.” “I know you do. Come, let’s bury the beauty.” We dug a hole in the moist ground close by, placed his body in, and covered it with dirt. Ruthie put a tiny wooden cross on the spot from twigs to remember him. “At first I used my BB gun just to take target practice, but then shot some blue crabs in the back pretending they were my enemy.” The expression on Ruthie’s face changed into a frown . She pulled out a book from her library, thumbed to an article and said,“You killed quite an interesting specimen.The Blue Land Crab delivers its babies in salt water as larva who become baby crabs in forty-two days. Eating mostly vegetation and leaves of red and white mangroves, and the buttonwood tree, these crabs scavenge for anything edible travelling great distances searching for food and salt water.  They determine direction using vibrations, landmarks, prevailing winds, and light during the day, and  the brightest part of the horizon at night. They make burrows deep enough to reach salt water about six feet where they live separately except for the young and mate on the full moon. Females carry their eggs on their skin for two weeks before depositing them in salt water. This species can’t live more than two days in the sun. Aren’t they amazing?” “I’m sorry I killed them.” “You should feel bad about acting cruel to helpless living beings. Now look out the front window and tell me what you see between the rose bushes.” “A giant spider in a huge web. It looks scary.” “Use this paper, sit at the table, and sketch the Golden Garden Spider’s web.”                                                             After drawing for a few minutes,  I realized my fear of spiders might have made me kill another marvelous creature if Ruthie hadn’t  caught my attention.  The huge gossamer web wound in different directions, shimmered when the sunlight reflected off it, bounced around in the wind, and caused me to admire the fascinating insect. When a fly hit one of the strands, the spider shot from her resting spot,and wrapped the prey into a ball for a meal later. She even oscillated the web with her large legs that made it  move and reflect the sun on strands that were invisible before.  It made meticulous movements  to create a dense zig-zag of silk to hide behind, or jump from if in fear of an attack by a bird. Spending three hours depicting the colorful spider and its intricate web made me truly admire an insect I first passionately feared.  Ruthie saw the care I took drawing the complex strands and patterns the large spider had woven. “You have captured that Golden Garden Spider’s magnificent web. Let’s frame your drawing so we can appreciate what you drew. Now you won’t ever kill something man could not create.”  

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