Things That Crawl
By Lucille van Straaten


dragonReading Victoria Schmidt’s story about ‘Things that Crawl’ I was amused, but saddened. Why do humans want to “viciously stomp” on creatures they are not familiar with? Those creatures were here long before we arrived, and are valiantly trying to survive in the world we have created for them.

I admit, I have an advantage – I grew up on a farm in the backwoods of South Africa where everything that crept and crawled came right into the house. Even as a five-year old I was fascinated by a snake that lay curled up on the lawn. I still have this fascination, and will do my utmost to save them. During hurricane season on the Caribbean coast snakes become disorientated and crawl into any space they think is safe. My neighbour found a boa in his washing machine. I asked him what he had done with it. “Killed it!” he replied, and when I groaned with dismay, he said, “You’re damn right I did”. I found a boa in my kitchen drawer – quite a strange encounter.

With the help of my neighbour we caught it in an empty paint bucket, put the lid on and hopefully it is still living in the Botanical Gardens where we released it. I found a smaller snake in an ornamental tub outside, and by placing a cat basket over it, allowed it to curl up inside. Then I shook it out into my waiting paint bucket and liberated it in the mangroves. We rescued several snakes this way.

The god, Quetzalcoatl, must have taken note because during my years working as a tour-guide in Mexico and regularly coming across snakes, I had narrow escapes with the deadliest, a ‘coralillo’, a ‘fer-de-lance’ and a yellow-and-black variety – never did find out what it was. On each occasion I had a distinct message which made me stop and look before stepping on it. With the yellow-and-black it might have been too late. As I leapt aside, I thought ‘not far enough’ and waited for the sting. Stopping at a safe distance, we looked at each other, said hullo, and it departed, slithering under a log.

The Yucatan scorpion is an impressive black thing, but it’s not deadly. When I encountered one, which happened regularly in a thatched-roof house, I took the dustpan, swept the fellow into it, and flung it over the fence into my neighbour’s yard. If it was territorial, it would probably come back, but so what. At night I would spread a mosquito net over my bed, and for a while I saw a very large 7-legged spider sitting on a ledge. He had probably had a run-in with a scorpion so I asked him please to keep guard. One night I woke, and for some reason switched on the light. There, just above my head, inside the netting was a huge scorpion. Not caring for such a crabby bed-fellow, I crawled out, fetched my trusty dustpan and took it outside.

Cockroaches have intelligence. Many years ago, living in a bed-sit in a run-down apartment building on Durban Beach, I had regular cockroach visitors. In the evenings, at a certain time I would hear their pat-pat steps on the wooden floors. They would stop at the entrance to the little porch where I sat and waved their feelers at me. When I told them it was OK, they would run across the floor to the woven Zulu baskets in which I kept pot-plants. There they played catch, running round and round the basketwork. I felt such a traitor when I was told by the management one day that the building was to be fumigated.

Mum and Dad had an evening ritual. Just before six, Dad would prepare ‘spots’ (drinks) and Mum would put out snacks. Punctually at six, a cockroach would come walking down the river stone chimney and nibble at the cracker crumbs Mum sprinkled on the floor. When it had had enough, it went its way up the chimney again.

If you’re bothered by an insect, try using a dustpan or small basket with a lid, sweep it in and toss it outside. No Raid or Doom necessary and it gets easier every time. I admit ants and aphids are a nuisance and sometimes one really does not have a choice. But I suggest that while we are here sharing the planet with ‘bichos’ (insects) and snakes we might as well make friends with them and make the best of it.

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