For the record, all of these animal encounters are 100% true.
Do you ever step outside, only to get the feeling that mother nature has it out for you, and, like the villain of a bad mystery novel, is bent on exacting only the most unexpected forms of revenge? I once felt that way. Every journey into the great outdoors was an offensive into a hostile environment filled with petal-covered trebuchets launching pollen spores at my sinuses.
I’ve collapsed from heat stroke and hypothermia, battled off armies of ticks, and nearly been struck by lightning. Cats have scratched me, birds have pooped on me, and skunks have sprayed me. Bees of both the common and bumble variety have pumped their poison into my flesh, and every time I go to Sea World I get the distinct impression that the fish are leering at me.
I began to fear nature at a very young age when some decidedly unpatriotic Raccoons laid waste to my green plastic army men. I used to love arranging those guys into epic battles between imagined nations. But one night I left my troops in a particularly dramatic tableau, and when I woke up, I found that neither The United States of Awesome nor Soviet Russ were any match for the great nation of Raccoon.
As time passed and I grew up, Nature began to raise the stakes. Every summer, unable to resist the water’s clarion call, I’d venture into the sea, only to be stung by literally hundreds of Jellyfish, apparently hell-bent on irritating my calves.
But one jellyfish is ruler of them all: The Portuguese Man of War. It’s a massive array of blue tentacles, topped with a purple, nightmarish Mohawk, and filled with enough deadly venom to kill a small yak. I’d never given the creature much thought, but one day, when I was snorkeling through the pristine Hawaiian waters, I suddenly found my neck wrapped in tentacles.
I flailed about, managing to informatively sputter “I am inside a jellyfish!” Driven, undoubtedly, by anti-poison instincts, I tore at the tentacles with my bare hands, ripping through them as if they were mere strands of gelatinous creature-parts, then high-tailed it for shore. The rest of the day was spent icing down the huge red welt trails that made it look as if I’d befallen some mishap whilst enjoying a bit of sadomasochism.
The attacks didn’t stop as I grew older. On a visit to Alcatraz, I was repeatedly dive-bombed by a fury-gull, either because I’d inadvertently gotten too close to her nest or because she was a prisoner reincarnate, displeased that I was desecrating the jail grounds of her past life. On a canoeing trip down the Colorado river, I got 48 mosquito bites in a single night, despite being covered in head-to-toe netting and repeatedly coating myself in noxious waves of bug repellant. My best friend only got 2, neither of which was on his eyelid. And once, during a solar eclipse, Fire Ants swarmed me, perhaps incensed that I had blotted out their god.
And just last spring, at the opening of X-Men: First Class, I was bitten by a black widow. I didn’t find out that that was the creature responsible until the week after, however. I only felt a tingling on my unguarded toe, and when I tried to scratch it, (unknowingly angering the spider that had made my foot his new residence), I found myself in excruciating pain. In the name of cinema, I did my best to ignore it.
But by the next morning, my foot had swollen to twice its normal size, I had the poison shakes, and my temperature was a healthy 103. I had to cancel my second ever Vegas trip, and since the movie was on a Friday afternoon, I couldn’t go to a doctor until Monday.
In the end, I concluded I’d been bitten during the wrong superhero movie. If it had starred Peter Parker instead of Beast, maybe I would’ve ended up with the ability to stick to walls instead of having giant blue feet.
But back to the list.
A Squirrel bit me while I was feeding it, prompting my mom to hysterically demand I be tested for rabies, Kookaburras are always laughing at me, and once a Coyote stole an entire pie from me on a camping trip!
For years, I was sure that nature had it out for me, that no matter what I did, the creatures of the world would conspire with clicks, chirps, and roars to rain down on me as many bites and stings as possible.
But I had it all wrong, you see. Nature doesn’t hate me. It loves me!
I AM A NATURE GOD!
You may think it’s just the leftover venom coursing through my veins talking, but for the first time I’m finally seeing things clearly. Pollen wants to party in my sinuses. The sun wants to caress me the only ray it knows how, and the raccoons thought they were defending me from an enemy army. It all makes so much sense!
If you were a skunk and all you had to offer was your spray, would you not gladly give it up to prove your devotion? Would not the bees break off their stingers in my skin, an insectoid sacrifice in honor of their lord? The Man of War was giving me a tentacle-y hug, and Mosquitoes merely think they’re following doctrine when they drink my blood. I bet they even go home and eat wafers afterward.
I was so focused on the hurts nature had enacted upon me that I forgot the joy of it all. I forgot the time that Blue Jay landed in my hand and chattered away happily as though life were a Disney film. I forgot the feeling of catching a wave beside a playful Dolphin, of petting a Cat curled happily on my lap, and of hiking through the woods, light sprinkling the forest floor with half-obscured rays that shine through the dancing leaves of the trees.
For every horrific encounter, there’s the time I was surrounded by a kaleidoscope of Monarch Butterflies passing through on their annual migration, or the night I swam in the Red Tide, the trails of my strokes aglow with surreal blue light.
Why else would a Guinea pig have made a pilgrimage to my house, if not to choose me as a master? Why else would a South African Turaco appear in my neighborhood, if not to delight us with its exotic songs? Why else, on that rainy night when I took shelter beneath the arches of a church, did hundreds of bats encircle me, wings glinting in the moonlight?
Like the rain god from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, I am forever cursed with the unwavering love of the creatures of the world, and no matter how much I try to deny the truth, I will never be able to rebuke their devotional bites and stings.
So I might as well embrace it. Next time I see a bear, I think I’ll go say hi.