Barbara Cooper
Barbara Cooper

Wildlife, space, and Thanksgiving

It started with Thanksgiving.

When the Israel Center in Jerusalem offered a traditional (American-style) dinner with a guest speaker that I wanted to hear, I decided to sign up for it, knowing that I would need plenty of time to get there from Ramat Beit Shemesh by public transportation.

Ready to go out, I opened the door, but a message coming in on my tablet called me back.  A response to my request for a ride so I wouldn’t have to take the bus and a train and another bus? Had to check it, so I ran into the office not realizing that I had left the door slightly ajar. Alas, not a ride offer.

Returning to the kitchen I glimpsed something under the dining room table. A creature! Not too small!! Furry legs!!! The scream that burst from my mouth sent it racing out. Secured the door behind it and locked it. A few deep breaths to regain my composure. It was only a cat, after all, but it had invaded my space!

When I ventured out, the cat was settled on the fake grass several feet away facing my door and glaring at me as I emerged. I’d seen this cat in the neighborhood with its distinctive white markings highlighting its body. Had he been waiting for the opportunity to check out my apartment? Was he contemplating another chance to take advantage of my carelessness? Think again, cat! My eyes sent the silent message as I left him to his musings.

This was not the first time that my space had been compromised. First, there was the mercifully short episode with large water beetles. They seemed to get the message quickly that they were not welcome, but another incident  required professional assistance.

One day during Sukkot, I noticed a couple of black specks on my instep. Ma zeh? (as we say in the New Country) — what’s this?  I picked one up in my thumb and forefinger, but when I opened my fingers to take a closer look, the speck had disappeared. This was another situation that had feline perpetrators. When I opened my door one evening to bring a chair in from my sukkah there were four kittens frolicking on my doorstep. They scurried away when I opened the door, but they must have been playing on my chair. I didn’t know that kittens may carry the elusive black specks that I could not get a closer look at. Fleas!! When I brought the chair into the dining room, I didn’t realize that I was introducing them to my home.

I called an exterminator to deal with them, but how could I be sure that they were fleas? They don’t fly, but they jump away very quickly. In order to have a specimen, I figured out how to capture them. I’d pick one up and plunge my hand into a sandwich bag not letting go of the flea until it was enclosed in the bag. I got very good at this and wound up with about a dozen of them jumping around in sandwich bags. So the exterminator did what exterminators do and ended the episode with the fleas. For this, I was thankful.

However, it reminded me of a book on my shelf with the title, “Buzz.” It has the most amazing close-ups of insects photographed with a scanning electron microscope. More ugly than beautiful, although in full color, the tremendously magnified images are fascinating, a non-threatening way of observing features that we can never see. The text that accompanies the photos is instructive of the range of different insects, some harmful, but many useful.

And what about fleas? Their historical claim to fame some centuries ago was the flea circus.  Modifying their incredible leaping power, they could be trained to be performers pulling carriages, turning carousels, and even ballet-dancing. (How and why, might one ask?) No such talent in the ones in my house, not that it would make them welcome. Their place is outdoors.

But when we exit our homes, aren’t we invading their space?

They don’t seem to be as picky as we are about who or what enters their world, although they often keep a low profile when we are around. I’ve occasionally seen large snails with unique striated shells, but more often the silvery lines on the outdoor steps are evidence that they have been there. It was exciting to have a glimpse of a male Palestine Sunbird sporting his shiny midnight blue feathers before he disappeared into a bush. A fluttering in my peripheral vision seemed like a butterfly until it came into full view. It was a female Palestine Sunbird, the tiniest bird with her long thin beak and characteristic brown body. The migration seasons in Israel grace us with hundreds of species and literally millions of birds. I have watched some flying randomly until a “thermal” carried them in a set pattern.

So…wildlife of all kinds in their own space, us humans privileged to enjoy the wonders of the outer world. And ending Thanksgiving day with a ride directly to my door in Ramat Beit Shemesh!

A lot to be thankful for, don’t ya think?

About the Author
Once a stay-at-home mother of four children, and now grandmother to 12, Barbara has spent 50 years 'children watching.' For the past decade, she provided childcare in her home and was also a substitute teaching assistant at Gan Ephraim Preschool in Columbus OH. Over the past 23 years, she has made 19 trips to Israel, finally fulfilling her dream of making aliyah in 2019. She pursues ongoing independent study of Torah.
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