A week ago the latest addition to the farm’s menagerie was welcomed aboard. Spicy Chicken, the baby owl.Spicy fell from his nest high up in a tree on Jay’s parent’s farm. When his mom found him, he appeared to be dead. A short time later, one of their dogs brought him up to the house. He was still alive and was put in an old spice box which gave him his name. He came to our farm when Jay’s parents left for vacation.
He was thought to be a Pearl Spotted owl because of his tiny size. Whenever anyone asked what species he was, this was our answer but uncertainty always hovered. One day, I decided to look into it to know once and for all. And there, in Robert’s Birds of Southern Africa, it was clear that Spicy, with his ear tufts and mottled gray coloring, was not a Pearl Spotted owl. His qualities pointed to a Scops owl. No big deal, except that Pearls eat meat and Scops eat bugs. We’d been feeding him the wrong food. Spicy is hardly a picky eater, but we thought we ought to do it right, regardless.
And, man, if there’s anything we have lots of, it’s bugs. Or had, rather, until Murphy’s Law kicked in. The very next day, dark cumulus clouds rolled in, ending our sentence of dry, scorching sun. This is what we’d been wishing for but it ended the relentless dinnertime insect assaults as well. Whereas, the day before we could have switched on the light and fed Spicy for a year, now there was nothing. In the morning the swimming pool was clean. The windows sills, bare. The empty juice pitcher, still empty. I scrounged some old moths out of the corners but it wasn’t enough for the insatiable Spicy.
I started rolling up ants into balls of the meat we fed him previously. He liked it. But that’s not saying much. He’d probably like Froot Loops, too. But the ants ran out. And Spicy was still hungry.
Then yesterday, just when I thought Africa had closed the pantry doors, those cumulus clouds burst wide open.
Jay and I were reading in bed last night. My subconscious noticed the cats were hunting bugs but it didn’t register. Only when the chapter was finished and the light about to be turned off did I look up. On the wall next to me I saw what the cats were chasing. They weren’t moths, they were termites.
These are not the termites that eat your house, these are the ones that build the enormous mounds. They are the ones that grow the mushrooms. And they are the ones people love to eat.
Once a year, a special troop of winged termites are bred. When the clouds come, the temps drop, and the humidity rises, those termites get ready. Then, the night following the first big rainfall, like yesterday’s, they take to the skies in hordes flocking to any light, say a reading lamp, and search for a mate. The mated pairs then begin a new colony, if they can get underground before being eaten.
We were expecting the termites soon but not this soon. Nonetheless, we got a move on.
First it was just a few, but they’d be good food for Spicy; these termites fill their back ends with fat to fuel them on their journey. I gathered whatever I could, plus moths and beetles that were also returning from hiatus. Jay ran to get a jar.
Soon, the sound of beating wings filled the room. They were coming in the windows and from both under and over the door. Jay was moving at hyper speed trying to catch them all, I was doing kung fu somersaults back and forth across the bed, naked, grabbing anything that was moving. The cats thought this was the most exciting game ever.
It began to get ridiculous. The wings of the termites are temporary and thus fall off with the slightest touch. Therefore, if I did not grab the bug entirely, I would be holding wings and there would be a fat-butted termite wandering through our sheets. Jay made an executive decision, without telling me, and unplugged the lamp to move it outside. Brilliant, but that left me blind to the insect onslaught of my bare skin. It was not pleasant.
With the lamp safely in a laundry tub on the porch outside, the bugs retreated from our sleeping quarters. We had collected quite a feast for Spicy and even a few to roast for Jay. When the termites had finished their nuptial flight, we laid down to sleep. Of course, by then, I was wide awake and couldn’t shake the feeling of bugs crawling on me, partly because some still were.
Today, thanks to nature’s generosity, Spicy has been gulping down the once-a-year Namibian delicacy with wild abandon. But, nature, if it’s not too much to ask, perhaps next time the generosity could not come in the form of fat-filled, flying bed invaders.