THE LOW DOWN ZOO
Bon Adventure’s yard is such a tangled and miniature forest. The thick-growing canopy of spherical leaves that thrive above his lawn insures that the soil below stays moist throughout hot summer days. But Bon Adventure cannot rest easy with the unwelcome encroachment.
A shadowy weed called Creeping Charley provides a home for countless creatures that scurry throughout the place. Each species living in the dim-lit world performs their inevitable ritual of eating, breeding and dying, undetected by most humans.
A spider lurks beneath a large clump of dandelion, close to her white silken egg sac. The orb almost matches her tiny body in size. The diminutive bushwhacker feeds on black crickets she surprises, while her brood develops inside their dry cocoon.
Pill bugs travel about the forest floor on sets of wavy legs, nourishing their armadillo-like bodies with decomposing plant matter, or occasional new shoots. The land crustaceans thrive well in this humid place.
Arthropods abound everywhere. The amazing centipedes burrow or creep into every dark crevice, always on the move. Several species live here together. Coiled and stilled bodies of several millipedes dot the landscape, proving that the carnivores do not make friends well.
Black carpenter ants run here and there, stopping to examine this or that before moving on, while earthworms rummage slowly underground.
Small white moths sit above the canopy, resting on the waxy leaves of Creeping Charley. When disturbed, they hop quickly to flight, but return just as fast to rest a short distance away.
Other than hidden spiders, only a few wise little toads sit still, lording it over the rest of the food chain down here.
For a fainthearted person to venture into this teeming dank world would be once foolish and twice risky, but Bon Adventure holds no such thoughts. The weed is there to subdue; the wild place expands and grows, indifferent of a mighty conqueror approaching its borders.
He chooses a time when shadows from a near-by maple make the battleground tolerable. Or he may wait until the East wing of the house casts shade over a section of the field. On some days he dares to work while sitting hatless and barefoot in the full midsummer sun.
Mostly however, the man arrives to claim a seat on previously cleared yard armed only with steadfast resolve and determination. As soon as he sits down he pulls the slack tight at the bottom of his jeans and wraps the excess flaps beneath his lower calf. This will keep panicky spiders from seeking refuge inside the pant legs, he hopes. He adjusts himself and gets comfortable.
Before his eyes lay the appointed work; beyond that rests the increasing mound of tangled dead weeds. Bon Adventure shifts his position slightly and then leans forward.
Several exposed and long reddish vines remain partially rooted with their lengths exposed, draped over yesterday’s efforts. He takes several of these in both hands and tugs at them gently. Satisfying snaps gain him an inch of immediate progress into the edge of the low thicket.
His eyes follow where one vine leads. A finger plays down along the vine to black dirt where it thrusts its way beneath the taunt living wire. Several more can be felt growing in different directions, so the finger digs below them slightly. The other hand joins the first while slipping another finger under the stringy growth. One, two and then three more are discovered, buried right below the surface.
Again the man pulls; this time four or five horizontal vines rise from among the thinned grass. Some vines give way and break in half, while others continue to pop loose from the earth at different points. Blades of grass some distance away waver and move slightly, indicating the direction in which the vines grow.
Black soil now stains both hands and fingers. The lower back begins to ache as the disassembling of nature’s puzzle goes forth, while fingernails turn black from packed grains of grit . A bare foot jerks when a cold earthworm wriggles along beside warm flesh.
Some weightless thing crawls across Bon Adventure’s head as he sits bent forward above the pernicious weeds. Then David leans his head over his dad’s shoulder.
“I put Deja Vue on your head, dad. Don’t move.”
He removes the hamster and sits down next to his dad.
“Dad, what do you think is the worst smell in the world?”
“I don’t know, son. What do you think it could be?”
“Well. Have you ever smelled squashed cricket guts?”