Our greenhouse is a temporary home for a variety of creatures: praying mantis, pacific tree frog, alligator lizard, and a variety of insects.
Some are brief visitors. Like the California ground squirrel that made a dash into the greenhouse when I accidently left the door open for two hours. In this brief time it came inside and discovered the young leaves of our salad lettuce. The squirrel ate everything but the chervil, which wasn’t to its taste. Perhaps the collard greens and broccoli were also not liked for the squirrel left them too. Or, maybe the squirrel ran out of time. Having never grown vegetables in Oregon before, I am not sure what table-food squirrels like best.
Another opportunist is the young bull snake. It slithered into the potted thyme and shed its skin. I found its papery white casing later while I was clipping thyme sprigs to place under a chicken’s skin for our Sunday roast.
Other short-timers in the greenhouse depart unexpectedly.
The Pacific Tree Frog, also known as the chorus frog, is one of 12 native frog and toad species in Oregon. One of the most common frogs in Oregon, it is famous for its spring singing. The iconic “ribbit” heard in Hollywood films is the call of the Pacific Tree Frog.
Over the summer we have had several tree frogs resting and hunting in the greenhouse. I have found males and females in various spots around the structure. A small female clung day after day to the strap of my black bathing suit hanging in the corner, and a lovely squat male rested daily in the door jam between the greenhouse and the mechanical room where the hot water tank is stored. And once I found a male lying on a leaf in the pineapple sage. While on the sage the frog’s skin became green, but when he lay up against the barn wood, he was brown.
These frogs change colors, but unlike the chameleon changing to camouflage itself, the Pacific Tree Frog changes colors in response to air temperature, brightness, and humidity.
Throughout the growing season I have a daily ritual of visiting the greenhouse to water the herbs and vegetables and to check on the creatures. The routine goes as follows: water the basil and pinch back flower buds, check on the statuesque praying mantis to see is she is still living on the eggplant. See the female frog attached to my bathing strap. Today I also see a serpentine alligator lizard hiding under the bathing suit, and I wonder if it will eat the small frog. The male frog is in its spot wedged inside the door jam, and I take a few moments to look into its dark eyes as it calmly eyes me back.
A few days later while on my rounds, I realize the male frog has been killed. My hearts sinks. The misshapen and discolored form is now but a caricature of the once beautiful sentient creature. One of the workers opened the door to inspect something in the mechanical room, and the frog slipped and was crushed when the man closed the door. Death comes so easily and from such a myriad of sources.
Possibly it was this same frog I watched as it sat on the windowsill last month. In one fluid and quick motion it engulfed an unsuspecting black fly.
As death comes in the greenhouse preparations for new life are underway. Later in the season the praying mantis lays two egg sacs on the vertical wooden beam next to the eggplant. And, I wonder if we will have another mantis hunting in the greenhouse next year?
A window into their world is still a view from the outside. I’m the outsider, and there is so much I don’t see or know. Life unfolding and closing in the amphibians’ and insects’ short span is realized pretty easily, but I get the sense that fragility is also part of our existence though, perhaps not as easily seen until it is upon us.
Author’s note: Come spring we will be starting our first vegetable garden outdoors, and although I plan a fence to keep out deer, I am now wondering how to keep out ground squirrels. If you live in California Ground squirrel country, please let me know what you do. Thanks!