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April, 2002


Adapted and expanded from an essay that was originally in Moments by Valerie, a collection of memories (1961-1983), written in 1986 and presented to Larry on their first anniversary.

Val with schnauzers, Krikit and Penny,
Joliet, Illinois, 1962
I enjoy catching animals. Not like fishing, where we eat them, and not large animals, or dangerous ones. I don't hurt them, and I always let them go (unless it's fish for our aquarium). There is something very attractive about actually touching a wild animal, seeing it up close, and just realizing that I have the skill required of such an endeavor. I'm lured to detail of any type, and, the closer I can observe something, the more of that detail becomes apparent. As a child, I became good at grabbing crayfish, insects, salamanders, lizards, toads, frogs, turtles, and snakes. I even caught snakes and turtles underwater sometimes. I once outwitted a small octopus (it was like holding jelly), only to let it go when it startled me by shooting out its ink.

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.

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