From the title of this post, you can tell there won't be a happy ending. Well, let me tell the story.
Back in the fall, when I was hard at work clearing out dead leaves and underbrush from the backyard, preparing the garden for it's winter nap, and planning next year's crop of vegetables and flowers, I came across two very unusual papery pods. I knew what they were: praying mantis cocoons. Well, I don't know if cocoon is the right word, but I recognized them because once years before, I'd found a very similar one and brought it into the house. Months later about a million praying mantises emerged and I had to catch them all and put them outside into the yard.
These cocoons looked good, and I thought I'd like to see them hatch, so I put them in a glass terrarium on the back porch, and covered it with fine screen. I'll watch it every day, I thought, and when they hatch, I'll set them free in the garden to eat the pesty bugs.
All through the winter I checked them, looking carefully to see any signs of insect life. I knew I had a duty to them, and a responsibility to Nature. But time passed and my patience was unrewarded. Spring came, it seemed, and nothing happened when I thought it would. I wondered if the cocoons were defective in some way. Then I got distracted and busy and you know how things go.
This morning I looked in the terrarium and saw millions of little tiny dead praying mantises. Then I was overcome by the worst feeling I've ever had. I killed them. If not for my interference, because of greedy curiosity, they (or at least most of them) would be roaming free in the backyard, growing large and eating mosquitoes and all kinds of other things. Instead, they are all dead, desiccated. They must have hatched a week or so ago, and I completely missed it. Maybe even one day of not checking had been enough to kill them--they were so small--I could hardly distinguish them from the dried debris in the bottom of the terrarium.
Crying from the injustice of it all, and from utter self-disgust, I poured my heart out to C. He tried his best to console me. Life is like that, he said. Good intentions sometimes have horrible results. Life isn't fair, and life is fragile. He told me about the first time he realized it. A tiny mole was lost trying to cross a busy road. He saw it die, and cried--a little boy seeing death for the first time. "It was just a tiny thing, and all it wanted to do was get off the road, but it couldn't. Why?" he cried to his father.
"They're just insects, acting on pure instinct. They don't even know that you killed them or even that they were killed."
"But how can I make amends?" I begged of C, wanting somehow to make the wretchedness go away. "I don't know," he said. "You don't have to. It's all going to be okay."
"I'm fostering orphaned kittens," I said. "We've put birdseed out all winter, and put up birdhouses. We let the birds have all the blueberries and grapes, even!" Maybe, I thought, these good interferences with nature could somehow balance out my terrible mistake. And maybe they will, if there is even some balance that can be struck. I suppose it would be impossible to live a life of complete non-interference and neutrality with nature. I step on insects all the time without even knowing. I scare squirrels away from the bird feeder. I pull up weeds and put insect repellent on my body and on my plants. C pours boiling water on the fire-ant colonies that he finds. I live in a house, in a town, and drive on roads--all of which displace nature. And yet, nature carries on. Despite my best efforts, there will probably still be praying mantises in the garden this year, as there always are. And a bluebird family will nest in the bluebird box, and a possum will eat the cat food we set out for the kittens, and the black-eyed susans will not overtake the yard because I will pull them up in the places where they crowd my dahlias. If I am the master of my domain, and a steward of the earth, I will take a lesson from life. But I will still be sad about what I've done.