“Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze –
On me alone it blew.” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The praying mantis clambers to the prow of her crab shell craft and readies herself for the launch. Or perhaps she has traveled far on the waves in her boat already and is simply saying farewell. She shines in the morning light on the edge of sea and sand in Pacific City, Oregon. That triangular face regards the incoming waves with what? Tenacity? Boldness?
I call this intrepid mantid a “she” without knowing. It’s just a hunch, since the females are notorious for eating their mates. It might take a female mantid’s chutzpah to surf the waves in a crab shell. She is alone and far from home. How did she get here? Did she smuggle herself aboard a ship, hidden in lettuce or celery? I imagine the stowaway discovered and tossed overboard. Yet, instead of drowning, she finds a floating crab shell and sails away, the wind blowing her craft until at last she lands here, north of Cape Kiwanda.
Put on my biologist hat, and I could look at her presence two ways–as a sign of how people are shuffling species all over the planet through our commerce, or as anecdotal evidence of a natural process, like the story of island colonization. I can only wonder, puzzle, and marvel at the conundrum.
After the astonishing find, I look more closely than ever at the flotsam and jetsam yielded by the great tides of a full moon Labor Day weekend. My bare feet tingle on contact. My tracks become yet another ephemeral story.