Life in Space
Link to Tom Brown's
Tracker School in
southern New Jersey
It was only
the first day of a 4-day survival campout, and I had partly finished building
a summer lean-to out of sticks and leaves.
I had just stopped to take a break, and was just standing there looking
out into the woods when I heard a small sound. It was a small crunching
sound like someone slowly crinkling a tiny piece of tissue paper. I
glanced in the direction of the sound and saw nothing but the trees and
the forest floor.
I then moved toward the
sound, stopping every few steps to listen. It seemed to be coming from a
small beech tree about 75 feet away. It was spring and the tree still had
all its leaves from the previous year. They were a light tan color, all
dried out, and with the texture of tissue paper.
I moved closer to the sound,
isolating it to a single leaf which was just at eye level. As I stood
there with my face only about a foot from the leaf, I saw a wasp standing
on the leaf and chewing its edge.
The first thought I had was that maybe it was chewing the
dried leaf and mixing it with saliva in order to make the walls of its wasp
nest. I felt fortunate to be able to witness this at such close range.
After a minute or two, the
wasp suddenly moved to the underside of the leaf with only its head peering
above the edge of the leaf and in the direction of my shelter. In
the next moment, a delicate green insect with a very long tail flew in from
a distance and landed on the top of the leaf. Instantly, the wasp
jumped to the topside of the leaf, grabbed the insect and stung it.
After several more seconds had passed, the insect had ceased all movement.
I stood there in complete
amazement at the events that had just unfolded not two feet in front of
my eyes. Then, the wasp repositioned itself over the insect so that
it could grasp it with its middle legs. It carried its load out to
my edge of the leaf. I moved off to the side a bit. I could
hardly believe that it was going to attempt to fly while carrying an insect
every bit its own size. But, with a committed motion, it launched
itself from the leaf and flew off to the southeast. It seemed to know
exactly where it was going.
I watched until I lost sight of it, then stood there
a moment longer looking at the beech leaf with the chewed edge, and thinking
about the drama that had just played out on that tiny stage. I thought
about that wasp's tiny brain - its strategies - its purposes - the green
insect who had chosen to fly up to that leaf - the faint chewing sound that
had also drawn me over to that same leaf. I had witnessed much
more than I could fully understand.
It has always been full
of mysteries that I knew I might never solve. For me, on that day, it was
a teacher of unspoken lessons.
(Will Franck - Greensboro, NC. - 1992)