Saturday, August 20, 2005

Married to Mowgli, With Children

Married to Mowgli, With Children
(c) 2002 Wendee Holtcamp

(For a little comic relief, I am posting an essay I read on NPRs All Things Considered back in 2002)

I should have worried when he said he liked me because of the dirt under my fingernails on the first night we met. I worked at a nursery, and dirty fingernails were a natural result of planting petunias. He thought I was a real earthy girl. I had just returned from five months in Australia studying rainforest ecology, and I thought I was pretty earthy myself.

I was too enthralled with his chiseled muscles and those gorgeous blue eyes to notice his strange interests. I would soon discover that he was more like Mowgli the jungle boy than Brad Pitt. Before long, he’d be feeding our children maggots served on a bed of lemony rabbit grass. No matter that I was actually the one who had swung from vines in the Australian rainforest, my Mowgli could actually survive from the fruits of the earth.

“Me Mowgli, jungle boy, me eat wild creature and fruit of the earth.” He didn’t actually say that, but he may as well have. He’d supped on nearly every wild creature found in these southern parts: possum, soft-shell turtle, squirrel, deer, wild turkey, duck, alligator, frog. “Always wanted to try armadillo,” he often said.

“Leprosy doesn’t deter you?” I’d ask, in wonder, knowing these creatures are the only non-human carriers of leprosy in the animal kingdom. I knew it wouldn’t.

Once we got married and procreated, like the chimps of Gombe he passed along his unusual behavioral traits to our children. One afternoon, I returned home from teaching Biology, and my husband had a bowl of what looked like pine nuts before him, our two children eagerly peering inside. Some of the “nuts” are wiggling about in the bowl.

“Mmm, try some,” he said, as he popped a handful into his mouth.

“Gross!” I replied, “What are they?”

“Carpenter ant larvae.”

“Oh lovely. You’re feeding maggots to my children!”

My young ones are far braver than I. They each reached into the bowl and grabbed some of the white elongate creatures that had been dug up from a hollow tree by the bayou. My daughter selected one non-wiggling pine nut ant larvae creature and slowly lowered into onto her tongue. She chewed it nervously, then ran and spit it out on the front porch.

Sam grabbed a whole handful, wiggly ones and all. “Mmm. Tastes like nuts. It would go good with rabbit grass!” He slipped outside to gather a handful of the lemony relative of clover.

“So, I suppose you have researched whether or not these are poisonous?” I asked jungle boy, senior.

“Ant eggs aren’t poisonous,” he guffawed. “They’re a delicacy!”

“Just like the Drummond rattlebox beans, I suppose.”

A few months back, we had been kayaking along our backyard bayou when he noticed a rattling pod of a common shrub. We pulled to the shore and collected several. When we got home, he shelled them and promptly began to boil them up for dinner.

“Aren’t you going to check if they are poisonous?”

“They’re legumes,” he assured me. “Legumes are never poisonous.” He tried to persuade me based on the fact that he’s been eating wild roots and shoots since he was a child wandering the back woods of Mississippi -- even had him a book on edible nature, at one time.

“Hmm, sure,” I said, not at all convinced. He’s about to feed some strange thing to my lovely children with nary a second thought as to whether it may cause their neurons to misfire or their livers to turn purple. I pulled out my handy guidebook, “Trees and Shrubs of Texas.”

“May poison livestock.” I read aloud. He looked up from the stove.

“We’re not livestock,” he replied, hopefully. He turned off the pot, and discarded the beans.

But here in the same kitchen, it was too late with the ant eggs. The kids had already consumed them. Nobody regurgitated ant maggots that night, so we can all rest assured that carpenter ants are indeed edible, if not at all appetizing.

So it is, married to Mowgli, with children. Never certain what aboriginal delicacy will end up in my kitchen. I’ve learned to wrinkle my brow and say in a perturbed voice, “disgusting!”

Secretly, I think it’s hilarious. It makes an interesting conversation twist when I’m out with my girlfriends. They think they have it bad when their husbands won’t cook. I mollify their concern with my stories of my jungle boy husband that does cook.

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