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A perspective from Adams Wofford


My wife and I have never been tidy gardeners. We like things jumbly with leaves and shoots of one plant twining about the tendrils of the next. A few years ago, we had a three-level condo. The middle level had a 100 square foot deck attached. We crowded it with flowers and a blossoming African Bleeding Heart—a vine of the East Africa rain forest. Down below were some papayas which I had started from seeds. It’s interesting to conduct little experiments.

We mounted an array of bird feeders on the rail with an assortment of nutrients ranging form sunflower seeds to Niger and suet stands with tail-boards for the larger woodpeckers.

We had a wicker couch about six feet back from the sliding door that opened onto that deck, and we often sat there to eat breakfast and watch the birds. We had named many of them. The Red-Bellied Woodpecker was “Horace.” The two Downy Woodpeckers were “Bill and Delores.” The Red-Headed Woodpecker was “Big Boy Henry.” The two wrens were “Flossy and Floyd.” We didn’t bother with the finches or sparrows. They were too numerous.

It was in the summer of 2014 that Pete appeared. Our son, Matthew, had just left Chapel Hill for a medical residency in Providence, Rhode Island. I felt sad and was sitting on the wicker couch one morning trying to figure out how to go on with my new life when I noticed a small, green praying mantis inside the screen of the sliding glass door.

I figured that this was a one-off and he would soon be gone. To my surprise, he stayed and begin to grow larger. I named him, “Pete,” although he was likely a female. It was easy to see why he had chosen this spot. About four feet diagonally up to his left, there was a lightbulb that we kept on at night. Insects were drawn to the light. Pete came out from behind his screen, went up to the light and feasted. During the day, he retreated behind the wire.  No need to travel out to the faraway plants on the deck.

Pete grew and grew. He was finally about two and a half inches when he was spotted one morning back behind the wire by Flossie, the wren. Wrens are always on the hop for food. They went under the rolling platforms that held our plants searching for spiders or any other target of opportunity. It is surprising that she had not spotted Pete before.

Flossie went at him like an arrow. She attached herself to the screen with her feet and delivered surprisingly strong blows against the wire with her bill. Pete was scared. He contorted his back until he looked like a U with six legs. I opened the door and shooed the wren away.

The next morning, he was gone. Pete, a wise creature, sensibly realized that his cover was blown, and departed elsewhere. I spend time carefully looking for him in the plants on our deck, but to no avail. For some reason, I have never forgotten him. Someone told me, once, that God is He who plays. There in our garden was a hide-and-go-seek universe. Something had passed. Something fleet, barely glimpsed, intense-but-playful, a dance of nature that was deadly serious, but still a dance.

Likely, Pete had relocated into the foliage. They are remarkably well camouflaged. He/she would have lasted until early fall, would have laid her eggs, and passed away into an insect’s never-never. I feel blessed to have witnessed that moment and shared some of the intrigue of that intrepid creature staking out a spot in plain view and riding out his bluff to the end. It was trickery worthy of earth’s greatest, and all the better to be hidden under one’s nose.


“Viewpoints” on Chapelboro is a recurring series of community-submitted opinion columns. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author, and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.