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02.24.10

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The Creature From the Backyard Lagoon

By Jessica Lussenhop


IN THE LAWN in front of the mother-in-law unit where I live, the tumultuous winter rains of January had filled up a depression where a tree stump had been removed. I'd really enjoyed the way things sprang to life all around after the rains, the way overnight a long dormant bush had suddenly come alive with a hundred thin woody fingers reaching out over my sidewalk, or the abrupt appearance of sturdy mushroom caps popping up through the wood chips. I'd particularly enjoyed lying in bed listening to the happy guttural expositions of toads, imagining them gleefully loping beneath my windows in the dark.

Now in February, the tree stump hole has become a tiny little pond with green things growing from its center. About two weeks ago I lay down on my stomach in the grass to peer down into it. Little water-skimming insects glided along the still surface; a black spider skittered around the edge, watching them hungrily. Then something else caught my eye—tiny tadpoles wriggling in the murky water. They darted away when I moved, but as I lay there, perfectly still, they reappeared, flitting nearer to the surface to breathe. I was transfixed, overjoyed that my late-night serenaders had chosen my backyard as a place to lay their eggs. I wondered if I should scoop some of them up in a glass jar to keep as pets in my house, but decided against it in favor of watching the miracle of their maturation au naturale. After years of living in big cities, this was the first time since my childhood in Minnesota that these tiny natural wonders were within reach, and I was never happier to be in Santa Cruz.

Like a proud mother, I brought my boyfriend to the pond to show him the little wonders. He looked down into the brown water, then back at me. "Babe," he said. "Those are not tadpoles."

Soon enough I was reminded of a particularly iconic Minnesota experience: the high-pitched whine of a dive-bombing mosquito, as my tiny apartment is now full of them. Those tadpoles? Those are called "wrigglers," and they're the most primitive stage in mosquito larval development. Within a couple of days, instead of a batch of melodious froggy friends, the pond birthed a hundred spindly-legged mosquitoes who wait lackadaisically on the surface for the sound of my approaching footsteps as I dart from the gate through the yard and into my front door. The outdoors, I remember, is not all it's cracked up to be, as I peer outside at what is, in fact, a festering mosquito orgy that keeps me trapped inside.


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