Saturday, 27 April 2013

Dog Day Afternoon

Hans Hoffmann (ca. 1530 - ca. 1591) 

Molly hadn’t realised how far she'd run until it was too late. She stopped in her tracks, and looked back to the open breadth of greenery and forest. Where was she? And where was Lucy? Two steps forward, sniff sniff, nothing familiar! She had been playing in Richmond Park with Lucy and caught sight of a hare hopping by in the distance. Like an arrow she shot forward! Molly had run and run and run following the hare to a hiding place way beyond where she had been playing with Lucy. Molly saw the hare disappear into a hole in the ground and had been digging furiously to gain access to the hare's underground refuge. But now that she stopped digging, she realised that Lucy was nowhere in sight! Sniff sniff, nose to the ground but she could not pick up her scent. What was she going to do? She didn’t know the park, the area, or even where she and Lucy lived in relation to the park. She slowly started to walk along the grassy region, and looked back and forth hoping that she might see something familiar. It had been midday when they had left the house and headed for the park. They had played, and met other dogs and people that day. Why did she have to chase the hare into the woods? Maybe if she tried to turn back into the direction from which she had been running, she'd find Lucy. Why didn’t she think of that before! "Silly Molly" she thought to herself and started to trot along feeling better that she was headed on the right track… She continued to walk along trying her best to retrace her path. As the sun was fading, the air began to cool. The woods that she had seen in the distance started to get closer and closer. She would be reunited with Lucy in no time!

“Molly! Molly!” “C’mon girl!”

“We’ve been looking for hours Lucy. I think we may have to come back tomorrow and start searching again.”

Lucy’s eyes welled up and her chin began to tremble. “She doesn’t know these woods mummy. She’ll be scared! We can’t leave now!”

“Molly! Molly!” cried Lucy.

They continued walking in the direction of the woods in which Molly had disappeared while chasing the hare.

“Honey, I know you’re upset. We’ll come back first thing tomorrow and I am sure that she will turn up.”

It was hard to pull Lucy away. She and Molly were such great friends. It was heart-wrenching for Lucy to be apart from Molly.

“Come along honey, we’ll go home and come back tomorrow with posters that we can put up as well. She has a collar, someone is bound to find her and give us a ring.”

Slowly they turned toward the path and started to leave the park. Lucy continuously looked back as the tears rolled down her distraught face.

“Just on the other side of these woods, and then I’ll be back with Lucy!”

M-F Boissonneault 2012
What Molly didn’t realise is that she had strayed a fair distance from Lucy when she tore off into the woods just above Pen Ponds. After running through the forest in mad pursuit of the tantalising hare, Molly had been turned around so that when she exited the woods at the other end, she was actually to the left of Pen Ponds rather than above it. At this end of the forest exit, Molly could not see Pen Ponds, and so when she entered the woods in front of her, she confused the woods of Killcat Corner with those of Duchess Woods. As Molly crossed the threshold of the small woods of Killcat Corner, it was as though the lights had gone out. The trees were thick and the air was damp. She stopped for a drink of water from a puddle and then quickened her pace in anticipation of reuniting with Lucy. The walk through the woods seemed much shorter this time, and as Molly left the woods of Killcat Corner, she was dismayed to discover that the landscape did not resemble the area around Pen Ponds. In fact, there were no large ponds in sight! She sat for a moment and exhaled deeply. Looking around, Molly saw a ridge of trees and then another forest. Perhaps those were the woods she had entered in her enthusiastic chase! That must be it. She ran off eagerly toward Victory Plantation. All the while poor Molly had no idea that she was getting further and further away from Pen Ponds.
D. Sharon Pruitt
adapted by M-F Boissonneault
As Lucy and her mum entered the car in the Spankers Hill Woods car park, Lucy sorrowfully gazed through the window in the hopes that she may catch a glimpse of Molly as they left the park. Her mum drove slowly so they could call out on the chance that they may intersect Molly as they drove away. As they turned onto the A3 to make their way back home to Southfields, Lucy began to sob. 

Meanwhile, Molly had completely lost all sense of direction. She had crossed through Kingsfarm Plantation only to find herself on an unfamiliar road. She decided that rather than get lost in the woods once again, she may as well follow this unfamiliar road… The road that Molly now found herself on was perpendicular to the A3, a main thoroughfare. It wasn’t long before Molly reached the juncture to the A3. Cars whizzed by her as she looked from one direction to the other. There was a center wall that separated the traffic, and it looked like it was a bit high to jump over. Molly decided that it would be better to follow alongside the A3 until she found a safer place to cross.

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Saturday, 20 April 2013

Felicity Flees the Belly of the Beast

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Saturday, 13 April 2013

Spiders and Dragons and Toads... Oh My!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
While most of the other spiders within his network were a dark brown in their colouring, Seymour had a lovely velvety gray tone that made him stand out from the rest. As Seymour made his trips to the surface to gather air bubbles in the tiny hairs along his body the sun would cast a rays of light upon him creating the illusion that he was a sparkling piece of polished silver. With his superior swimming ability and glittering body Seymour looked like quick-silver as he sliced through the water.

Unlike the females in his family Seymour had to make less frequent trips to the surface to gather air for his underwater shelter. He usually only made a daily trip to replenish his diving bell air supply. Yet, this did not mean that he was without stories from the surface. In his younger days, Seymour was far bolder and would cross the watery threshold to molt rather than creating a separate bell for the purpose. He was now an older fellow approaching his 22nd month. And, as time went on, his trips above the water decreased and his network of underwater air bells became more complex. Like the other diving bell spiders, each air bell within the network of Seymour’s shelter had a specific function. One bell was for eating, one bell was for sleeping, one bell was for mating and raising young and another bell was for molting.

lowered in a glass diving bell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)His trips to the top were a great opportunity to learn about the creatures that lived in the habitat. Creatures like the flyers that flashed in the night or the bouncing and shuffling beasts with the swift sticky tongue! He often reminisced about his life these days, remembering such stories like the one of a giant creature with four legs that also used a diving bell. He had seen this creature on land one day while molting. It lumbered along on two legs with the other two dangling by its sides. Most of the stories of this creature involved its visits to the water. Over the countless seasons the stories left behind by ancestors were complemented by each generation, leaving the contemporaries with a storehouse of knowledge about the world they lived in. The giant diving bell creature  that sometime visited the habitat was one of these many stories. This particular creature had seemed to mutate from having a large gleaming diving bell to a long tube that emanated from its head, to what Seymour had observed was a cylindrical tube on its top half and a smaller head that leaked bubbles with feet like the beast with the sticky tongue… Although Seymour had many stories about the world he did not recognise that this Goliath that visited the habitat was indeed known above the water as a human.

As he sat on this stagnant summer’s day within the safety of his retreat Seymour thought about William and the world above the water. This was his second summer in the habitat after the overwinter and he had said his final goodbyes to William the night before. Seymour had been an active hunter, but in the recent months he had slowed his pace and was beginning to feel his age. In his prime, he was a fabulous swimmer darting out and catching prey with swift strokes in his watery abode. Seymour was a confident huntsman who he had developed a taste for crustaceans and tadpoles, leaving the nymphs, mites and mayflies to the less aggressive hunters in the habitat. His taste for crustaceans and tadpoles was how Seymour came to befriend William. William was an inquisitive youthful burst of energy that reminded Seymour of his younger days. Full of questions, requests and eager to begin an adventure was William’s approach to learning about the world around him. His eagerness to act, investigate and explore was a wonderful quality in William but it was also one that had put him in unnecessary danger on more than one occasion. This was how he came to wander into Seymour’s sanctuary. As an older chap, Seymour had welcomed this little nymph with the endless supply of queries. William had been a welcome distraction from the realisation that Seymour was nearing the end of his cycle and gave him the occasion to hark back to his own youth as a hatchling adventures living in a snail shell before he learned to make his own proper shelter.

As Seymour sat contemplating his visits with William he noticed that his shelter was starting shrink. It was time that he journey to the surface to gather air to refill his homespun sub-aqua web to avoid it from collapsing. It was a relatively safe time to journey to the surface, between sunrise and daylight, the hopping shufflers with the sticky tongues had fled after a long night of feasting and the giant feathered flyers were just beginning to stretch their wings. Without further delay Seymour made the familiar voyage to the surface…

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Friday, 5 April 2013

A Toad by any Other Name...

“The world has held great Heroes,
As history-books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared with that of Toad


The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them knew one half as much
As intelligent Mr Toad!”

― Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows, 1908)

To most he was known simply as a common toad. However, as far as Tom was concerned, there was nothing common about this *bufo bufo!  A bigger chap than most with a penchant for the spotlight made Tom the centre of attention. Nonetheless, when breeding season was over, he was left to his own thoughts without a captive audience… As an older fellow, he had stories collected from the generations before him. Tom was a wonderful fabricator of intrigue and suspense and always looked forward to sharing his knowledge and stories during the yearly spring time migration to the breeding sites.

Like many toads, Tom led a relatively solitary life. The occasional interactions he would have with other toads were usually restricted to the breeding season. Although he pretended to enjoy the peace and quiet of an independent life, he often felt the pangs of loneliness that troubled some of the other species that surrounded his habitat.

By Ernst Haeckel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now almost all of his fellow brethren toads had learned early in life to discriminate between glowing and non-glowing prey, but Tom had developed a taste for the bioluminescent treat known around the habitat as the firefly. The unpalatibility of firefly larvae was a flavour he had learned to ignore. Since, with the ingesting of these flashing beings came a far better reward than a tasty meal!

It was an ordinary evening like most of them. Tom had spent his day in the cool dampness of his lair. The place he called home was a hollowed out root that had served his purposes well over the past few months. The lair had gone relatively undetected by any of the local rodents and even by most of the resident cats that often patrolled the area. Tom looked forward to the evening hunt for prey. With the unmelodiousness of crickets chirping the sun gently fell beneath the horizon. It was time! He could hardly contain himself as he crossed the threshold of the safety of his lair. Generally Tom would slowly walk to his hunting grounds for his evening meal, but tonight was going to be a story-telling night. On story-telling nights Tom was excited to get to the hunting grounds and took quick awkward hops in an effort to hasten his journey.

As Tom the toad made his way to his familiar podium to tell The Tale of the Toadstone, William was just
By David Eickhoff from Pearl City, Hawaii, USA (Dragonfly naiad skin  Uploaded by Tim1357) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commonsdiscovering his new surroundings. William was new to this unfamiliar world of flashing light and excitement. Seymour had told him a little about the world beyond the surface of the water, but nothing had prepared him for the reams of new sights and the crispness of this world above water. During his larval stage William had fed on other invertebrates such as mosquito larvae. He also fed on small fish and tadpoles. However, when it came to feeding on tadpoles that was an art in itself! In order to avoid the toxic secretions of toad tadpoles, if they were to be a meal, dragonfly larvae needed to puncture the skin and suck out their juices. This was going to be William’s first hunt above water and he wondered about finding his meal. He had molted for the very last time and cast away his *exuviae. As a *teneral adult, William was pale and extremely vulnerable. He had been vigilant about finding a safe place for this final metamorphosis as Seymour had warned him about the dangers beyond the aquatic habitat that he had grown so accustomed to as a nymph. It would take time for the blood to travel through the network of veins in his wings and for them to harden before he would be able to fly. Even his new legs felt weak and it would take a few days for his body to fully harden. Until that time, William needed to be ever so watchful of his environment since he would also need a few days to hone his flying skills. He sat quietly on the stem and patiently waited for the moment when he would be able to fly.

By Inconnus [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsIt was a marvellous night for story-telling. The sky was ablaze with the flash of fireflies and Tom knew he would easily attract an audience. As he settled in on his podium he began to prepare for the night’s oration! Tom’s podium was a rock at the water’s edge. The back side was surrounded by vegetation that allowed him to blend with his surroundings. At the front was an opening that had a view of the water and surrounding stones and vegetative platforms for his onlookers.

It was a great spot to find all sorts of prey, spiders, crickets and caterpillars were abound, and even tiny fish and tasty animals could be found. But for tonight Tom had made up his mind, and fireflies were all he was looking to find! He sat ever so still and waited for his meal to come to him. The first catches were easiest and so it was always essential to snag as many fireflies as he could before they caught on to his game. Tom unfurled his tongue with a mighty thrust and extended it to snap up the first flashing light for the night! One after the other he whipped out his tongue and caught his unsuspecting prey by surprise. It was a good night for fireflies, and it wasn’t long before Tom was ready to tell his tale. As he filled his belly with the bioluminescent firefly prey Tom began to glow! He didn’t need to call out to gather an audience, the afterglow of his evening meal created a splendid luminosity that attracted connoisseurs of his evening narratives of legends and stories and sparked the curiousity of newcomers. As the night went on Tom recounted The Tale of the Toadstone.

Shiokawa Bunrin [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsMeanwhile, a short distance off William had been sitting on his perch and enjoying the twinkle of the night sky. Some of the lights seemed to flash brighter than others, and as the night went on he noted how the sky gradually lost the vibrancy of these flashing lights. All but one, there was one flashing light that seem to grow stronger as the night sky around him lost its sparkling glow. William had extended his wings and could feel they were getting stronger. His legs were getting harder and no longer felt as weak as they had when he first emerged from his nymph shell. He had taken a few steps to the tip of his perch and looked closely toward the glowing light. He watched this bioluminescent blob throughout the night and had decided he would investigate as soon as his wings were ready.

Tom’s belly was a really crowd gatherer. At the beginning of the evening it appeared to sparkle but it slowly took on a synchronistic flashing that he used to add flare and oomph to his tale. This was not Tom’s first appearance on the podium and he had learned over the years how to thrill and delight his spectators to the point of Oohs and Ahs! He would weave his story around the synchronised belly sparkles of light and methodical glows. Each flash of light played eloquently into highlighting a moment that would excite, startle or keep the *knot on baited hook! Dawn was creeping in and as
Tom’s belly glow began to dwindle he drew his story to a close.

The sun was not yet up but William felt the strength in his wings and was eager to uncover the source of the methodical radiant glow that had captured his attention. It was time. He was so enthralled by the night’s luminescent display that he couldn’t wait for the sun to warm his body for flight. With a gentle flick he shook the dew from his wings and moved his stiff body. It wasn’t long before he fired up his wings and that they began whirring and his muscles started to warm.

Tom had a voracious appetite like most of his chums. However, on story nights he never did get quite enough to eat. After he took his bow, and the *knot dispersed to return to their lairs, Tom was keen to catch a few more insects before retreating to his humble abode. He lingered on the rocky podium and watched for unsuspecting prey.

William had been slowly warming his body for his maiden voyage while Tom patiently waited for a final snack. As the dawn had crept in, William wiped the morning dew from his eyes, all the while his wings worked to heat his body in preparation to take to the skies for a day full of adventure! His wings swiftly fluttered, gradually pulling him from his perch. Before William could notice he was aloft! He bounced and fumbled slightly in the air but was determined to stay on course to discover the origins of this mysterious glow.

The sun was slowly rising and Tom was growing impatient postponing his return home. “One more catch and then I’ll be off…” As William closed in on the site he had been watching all night he couldn’t see any glowing mass. The sun had risen and there was nothing here but a bumpy fat creature with an oversized mouth. William was disappointed that he had not figured out the mystery and turned around to fly back toward his perch when he felt a shift in the air around him...

* bufo bufo is the scientific name for the common toad
* Exuviae is the nymph shell that the dragonfly leaves behind
* A teneral adult is the first dragonfly adult stage
* A knot is a group of toads

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