According to most dictionaries, the word “creature” was pronounced “critter” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — when the American colonies were being founded. That’s where the word comes from. It now has a sort of jokey valence and brings to mind creepies, crawlies and all manner of little organisms. Strictly speaking, though, we’re talking about “creatures.” That is, things created. It refers to the creation myth: in a drunken stooper the Flying Spaghetti Monster, stretched his noodley appendage down and created the earth and all the critters.
I’m not religious, though of course I respect pastafarians and wholly endorse their decision to hold Fridays as a holy day. So this critter thing is a bit problematic. It does role off the tongue better than organism ( wait for sec 32). I suppose I could say “orgs,” but that sounds stupid. So critters it is.
I’m talking about critters because last night in the garden I noticed this season’s first critter: a toad. I was puttering in the garden right around sunset (that’s when I can be assured of feeding the most mosquitoes) when I heard some rustling behind me. There he/she was. Glorious. I paused and then my attention was drawn to the only thing louder than I-91 in Northampton: spring peepers. I love them. What says love more than a slimy amphibian sitting in cold mud screaming? When in the garden I’m nowhere near along, I’m surrounded by these critters.
This morning as I was wielding my most vicious hoe in a death match with all of the little maples trying to grow in my beds (neighbors may have been disturbed by my battle cry “you’re not a tree anymore”), I heard a buzzing. Not a fly while I died , but a bee pollinating the weeds. Oh sigh!
These critters remind me of some instruction I recently witnessed. One of the professor types I work with wanted to get some salamander eggs to use for his class. He was unable to locate any so returned to the lab with gallon zip-lock bags filled with mud. Apparently he was trying to be a caricature of a professor (boots, beard, dog and bags of mud).
In any case he put some murky water on a microscope slide and began swearing at the microscope while his students looked on aghast. I turned it on and got the right filter sets and, what do you know? This mud was filled with little critters loaded with chlorophyll. What does that mean? Chlorophyll is the stuff that makes plants green. It is a pigment they use to harness the energy of light to convert carbon dioxide into sugar and feed all the rest of us lazy heterotrophs. The muddy water was filled with critters making their own food. These, I imagine, are eaten by bug larva and are in turn eaten by the tadpoles that come out of the frog eggs or salamander eggs for that matter (though those aren’t tadpoles). Critters everywhere. That’s spring — it’s alive.
The younger of our indigent boarders tells me that he has been hearing a Tyrannosaurus Rex in our neighborhood. He has also been finding a lot of teeth, though these look a lot like rocks. I’m afraid the critters of Northampton may be getting out of hand. Can I hear a Ramen ?