Val with schnauzers, Krikit and Penny,
Joliet, Illinois, 1962
Because we have five senses with which to explore the world around us, it has always seemed natural to use them. How else would I know how soft a bat's fur feels, or the unique surface of a soft-shelled turtle's carapace? I even know that a mudpuppy's teeth, a shark's skin, and a cow's tongue all resemble sandpaper. Holding out my hand towards a hovering hummingbird moth helps me to experience its presence in a much more immediate way than just looking from a distance. There are scores of animals (especially aquatic) that are so tiny, fast moving, or well camouflaged, that they can only be truly studied when held in the palm of my hand.
Armadillos are an ideal target and, after many attempts I did catch a couple. I now know exactly how the texture of their skin feels, how strong they are, and how they are rather hairy and pimply on their undersides. Once, after capturing a very small armadillo, I held it at arms length and took its picture with my little 110 instamatic camera.
The urge to touch animals has gotten me in trouble, such as the time I picked up a bristle worm to show to my mother, then noticed its tiny spines were coming loose all over my hands. I spent the next three hours in agony from its poison. I used to collect cocoons simply for the thrill of briefly holding a newly hatched luna or cecropia moth before it flew off, and I took every opportunity to pet tame animals.
One of the more amusing animals I encountered was a beached loon, which I moved to the freedom of the water while it snapped and pooped. I must have looked ridiculous walking down the beach with a huge bird held at arms length, and it was not in the least bit grateful for my effort as it swam away.
But few things are as captivating as holding a tiny mouse or baby bird for a moment, then watching it move on.