Natural Habitat


It’s an unusually sunny and warm afternoon in October. The leaves are changing and are in that perfect zone of yellow and light brown. The sunlight comes through them, making the ground almost golden. I am watching the world go by my window. Though there are three parks with a five minutes’ walk from my flat, I have decided to eschew nature today. Both of my living room windows are cracked open. A ladybug is walking on the tip of one of them…both of them.

I sigh. Nature is wonderful. I go to my kitchen for a sandwich.

I am rereading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a book that I have consistently recommended since reading it for the first time in 2004. The book is about Bryson’s 1996 hike of the Appalachian Trail, though, as some readers will immediately point out, not all of it. These are the same people who tell you that pineapple belongs on pizza.

Reading A Walk in the Woods has had the same effect on me as it did the first time I read it. Namely, it makes me want to up and walk somewhere through nature. I have done my days in nature. A camping and fishing trip in the west. A yearly canoeing trip in southern Bohemia. Countless days fishing as a kid. A Boy Scout camping trip. I can, as Bryson so desires, look into a set of mountains and woods, and say with a far-ff stare, “I have shit in the woods.”

Yet nature is admittedly not in my nature. Once I get beyond the superficial joys of nature, I am faced with the very true reality that I spend most of my time in nature wondering when I can be out of nature. I know it’s not the Zen and back to nature mentality that we’re supposed to wear around our heads like a halo, but it’s the truth. Canoeing is fine, but have you ever considered how great not canoeing is? Brilliant. Better yet, having been canoeing? Brilliant and with the extra benefit of being able to say that you’ve been canoeing. The first memory I have of my Boy Scout trip is the night my friend Jason and I had to share our tent with a half dozen eastern wolf spiders trying to get out of the rain. And kill us. And, yeah, I’ve shit in the woods, but have you tried shitting in a bathroom in your own house? World’s better. And the reading material is so much more enjoyable when you’re not using its pages to clean up your butt after you forgot TP hypothetically.

So today, instead of being in nature, I have decided to enjoy it from my window while I drink coffee, eat salted meats and cheeses between bread, and read about nature.  

When I get back to the living room, I sit at my desk and review some notes. I nibble my sandwich and listen halfheartedly to the sitcom playing in the background. Someone walks by outside, crunching the leaves beneath their feet, a quintessentially autumnal sound. I pull off my glasses and look up to the window in a mimic of appreciation and reflection. It’s then that I note that the two ladybugs there earlier have invited some friends. There are now six or seven of them and some more outside on the wall. I give a laugh.

Correction: I give a nervous laugh.

I take out my broom and open the windows wide, I gently push the ladybugs out into the day. “Ok guys, back to nature.” Their wings bristle and one of them buzzes at me aggressively. The other one plays dead and I gather him up on a piece of paper and place him on the outside sill.

There are still a couple of ladybugs still hanging out, but I can deal with one or two. I look through the window at the seven or eight standing on the outside sill. “What are you guys doing around here?” I ask. Nobody answers. The cat is standing on the sill and watching them. She’s smacking her tail, but it’s all for show. She licks her lips nervously. I walk around the flat and look through the other windows and note one or two ladybugs on the sills, there’s maybe one in the kitchen. I let him be.

When I get back to the living room they’ve made another push and several ladybugs now meander slowly along my ceiling and on the windows. On the inside of the windows. I close the computer and open the windows. I have my broom. “Come on, guys. Get out of here.”

The ladybugs fly through the window as I tap them with the broom. A bee flies perilously close to my open window, but thank heavens he zooms off.

“Are you cold?” I ask the cat. I rub my shoulders. “Brrr, I’m cold.”

I am not cold. I shut the windows but the ladybugs still find a way in. They come in numbers now. They stand. They amble along the windows. They mock.  

This is not the first time I’ve been invaded by airborne nature. A hornet tried to get at me two summers ago, literally tearing at the screen that separated us as angrily as if I’d drawn dirty pictures of his sister. This last summer I was taunted by a wasp named Chauncey, and last spring two, yes two, birds flew into the room I was inhabiting.

“What do you bastards want from me?”

They do not answer.

In the end I decide that they want me to go out. So I go outside. I walk around the park and eventually allow nature to take over and head to a local pub. I sit outside, read my Bryson. He’s on about leaving wildlife alone in their element, the perfection of a bear in the woods, an owl in a tree knot. It’s here, in my natural element of a garden pub, that I am left alone by all other creatures, big, small, and bipedal. I order another beer and note that the bees bother the others and a ladybug walks on the table near me, careful to keep its distance.

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