Don White is a professional journalist, with BS degree from the University of Utah and a law degree from Howard Taft University. He is a former AP newsman, magazine editor, author of three books including a novel, and numerous short stories, essays, articles, and blogs. He blogs on 19 websites including;
Cages Are For Humans
By Don White
Floridians love their pool cages. I live outdoors in our cage, isn’t it great — lounging around reading stories and books, calling myself semi-retired until my wife announces we’ve shopping to do, we’ve got to fix something, paint, caulk, clean and ad infinitum and then I am no longer retired.
I was concocting a plot when my mind wandered and I inhaled all the splendor and magnificence of nature: blue sky, green grass in the fall, placid pond, and the occasional mating call of a songbird. What a mood — life is beautiful.
It was a perfect day in early November—the bugs that had carpeted the screen had died and now I could verify the sky was actually azure and cloudless, temperature a perfect 75 degrees. I felt so good — this was why people came to Florida, right? To be one with nature to study the wild outdoors and all of life’s creatures.
Two Sandhill Cranes came by and changed my mind. In Florida they can get as tall as a small woman. These birds were especially angular and smartly dressed in gray feathers highlighted in red, taking a Sunday stroll as if at the zoo and suddenly I had this epiphany. The tables were turned, it was I who was caged and on display, and they were the visitors very officiously stopping from time to time to sniff the air or to grab of bite of something delicious.
Like opera snobs or old sophisticates in an eighteenth century court, the two snoots cranked their necks disdainfully. Their glare was powerful, like viewing me under the magnification of field glasses, peering at me for the longest time until I felt violated.
“Strange little fellow,” wouldn’t you say, Margaret? I always wondered how they would look naked.
“Naughty, naughty! But I most certainly would agree, Henry. This one is strange and eccentric —has no clothes except a loincloth. I wonder who he thinks he is, Tarzan? And he’s a lazy specimen, too. Don’t they feed him? All he does is lie there with a book in his hands starring at the sky. My, what weirdos they stock this cage with lately!”
I know that must have been going through their minds and it got me thinking. While we humans build these expensive screened-in areas — my neighbor’s cost $70,000 — to keep out the stray dogs, swarms of bugs, Kamakaze birds, cockroaches and other night-sneaks, they are laughing at us. They think the cage was built to keep us in, not them out.
One day while within my secure domain, I heard a terrible commotion. I looked to see a large croaking frog that lived under our bedroom window, keeping me awake all night when rain-water puddled.
Croaking and jumping, he leaped four-feet at a time, running for his life, but his menacing pursuer was gaining on him. It was a six-foot black Florida snake, weaving his way on the heels of this jumping frog that hoped to get to the safety of a large pond behind our house thirty feet away before the snake got him. The croaking was a means of shouting the warming to other frogs: “Watch out! The snake is after me, gang way!”
Normally, I don’t take sides when it’s beast versus beast, but this time I did. In a moment the croaking stopped and I in my cage stood and cheered.
A dead croaking frog meant a good night’s sleep. Since black snakes don’t go after humans, I tolerated and loved them like a neighbor; and I suppose they tolerated humans.
At that moment I didn’t even care about the deep hole he had dug under my Washingtonian palm tree out front. Actually, I was glad he did because we had a rabbit digging holes in our garden, eating the periwinkles. One day I found the furry remains of that rabbit. Now the snake made sense.
I guess to him, we made sense, too. He was allowing us on his premises — to attract the kinds of things he liked to eat — and we were his invited guests.
It’s an interesting interposition, but it’s true. Snakes and other wildlife always have the upper hand. We excavate their property and mess up their lifestyle, but they come back and assume power, reclaiming their land and taking over our houses in a way that non-Floridians really don’t understand until they move down here.
Then there’s the question of Florida’s lizards. They poop and pea where they like and freeze in place when someone approaches, believing they’re invisible.
Lizards are reptiles, the largest being the Komodo dragon which can grow to be nine feet long. They have been known to stalk, attack, and kill humans. The venom of the Gila monster and beaded lizard is not usually deadly but they can inflict extremely painful bites due to powerful jaws.
I picked up a five-inch lizard and it bared its tiny teeth, attaching them to my finger harmlessly. I felt it’s scaly skin and noted its handsome long skull with many fused or reduced bones.
Most lizards retain the typical tetrapod body plan of a short neck, four limbs of roughly equal size ending in five toes each, a moderately long body, and a long tail. Most lizards possess external ears and have movable eyelids.
Encompassing forty families, there is tremendous variety in color, appearance and size. Lizards are literally take over and they’re not hard to catch. I could recall as a kid catching hand-sized lizards when we visited Grandpa and Grandma Steele in Mamouth, Utah. It was a rough rock, hilly mining town that had seen its best days. With nothing to do, my brother and I, with two cousins, used to catch lizards and turn them over and rub their bellies and they would change colors in our hands.
I knew lizards, like doggies, appreciated a good belly rub now and then so inside my cage where I somewhat tolerated these little messing creatures I caught one and rubbed it’s belly. It obliged me by peeing all over my hand. I lost control of him and caught him by the tail. The tail came off in my hand and the tail-less lizard — who, by the way, did not change colors — ran away.
Then’s when I thought about how dependant lizards are on their tails. They really can’t climb my screen without them. It’s like I pronounced on the cute little critter the death penalty and I felt badly for him, just for a second. Yes, to a lizard his tail is like the balancing pole for a high wire artist. Without it, he gets vertigo, loses confidence and balance, and falls to the ground. Confined to the ground, soon he becomes easy prey for birds.
Unintentionally, I had ordered Mr. Lizard’s death sentence. Then I remembered that Lizards can grow back their tails and I immediately felt better. In that way, lizards are better than humans. Can you grow back your tail if it’s suddenly severed from your body?
What does that have to do with cages? Well, in the summer there are dozens of lizards hanging out—many on our cage. At first I said, “Okay, I won’t get rid of them, they eat the bugs. But as time went on, I realized they weren’t efficient bug crunchers. I resorted to spraying the bugs and that didn’t last too long, either. The following week, bugs would again birth massive populations of babies and dominate the walls of my cage like mosquitoes on an African sleeping net.
But why do these bugs congregate around humans when we are somewhat efficient in keeping them at bay? First, they’re hungry for the naked parts of our bodies — legs, arms, neck and face not covered by T shirt and shorts. We present a luscious feast, but more important, they’re curious about us caged humans. What makes us tick? Why do we prefer to live in a cage?
Third, they like the sun. They’re like commorant birds that sun themselves on a rock near our lake, their solar panel wings outstretched for the longest time, soaking up the sun’s energy. The warmth keeps them going. Female gnats, no-see-ums, and mosquitoes must have quite a time in the sun as, right before our eyes, they propagate millions of offspring each month.
Then I read a scientific journal that said having a lot of babies — especially for insects and animals — does not shorten their lives, but lengthens them. And all this time I thought if a woman had a dozen kids she died off early. Not necessarily so, ladies. Your mortality rate versus men’s is lengthened, my wife’s protestations to the contrary. Have as many little pumpkins as you can and enjoy every burp, spit-up, diaper change, midnight feeding and the ga-ga love of these cute little ones while you can.
But as for this sun worshiper, I’ll cherish my book inside screen-protected environs as, in awe, animals, birds, and bugs occasionally stop to view a white-skin oddity of nature, a caged birthday-suited weirdo.