The Tale of the Dung Beetle
By Pamela Victor
My daughter Sierra, her friend Hope (oh! how this name foreshadows our tale!) and I were walking the dog early one summer morn. The weather was, for once, lovely. Not too hot. Not too cool. Not too buggy even. The girls brought a carrot each, a treat for our neighbor's fine equine companions. Birds chirped. Wind whispered. Girls giggled. All was well in our little piece of the world.
My little nature girl, Sierra, cried out in delight! "Look!" she said, pointing to the middle of the road. "A dung beetle!" A scarab of lore.
Sure enough, an industrious hard-shelled, black beetle labored loyally on her front feet, using her back ones to roll a small ball of dung up the hill. Our very own dung beetle! Right in the middle of the road! We didn't even realize they existed in America, for I had only seen them in Africa on TV. (No, I didn't not watch TV in Africa. The TV was state-side but the video showed Africa. But I digress.)
How exceptionally perfect her little ball of dung was formed! A more perfect sphere of poo there never was. We later found out that the female dung beetle lays her eggs in the ball of poo, and she rolls more dung, like a child building a snowman, around her offspring. Then the larvae eat the dung as they grow. One man's trash is another man's treasure - the dung beetle life motto! A green tale for the ages. The original recycler.
The girls and I marveled at this dung beetle, as we crouched by the side of a country road agog with admiration. For Sierra and Hope, this beetle’s journey was a PBS nature special brought to life at their very doorstep. However to me, this dung beetle’s remarkable devotion to the Sisyphean task before her encapsulated the very essence of the immeasurable sacrifice and toil of motherhood.
Suddenly, in the distance, a deep-throated rumble came from down the road. Our eyes locked. We were shocked to the core. Oh no! Our dung beetle was right in the middle of the road. I’ll admit, I was flummoxed. Sure, I wanted to help the poor dung beetle, but...how? Would I have to touch the dung? What if she got separated from her ball of poo? What if the dung beetle survived, but her manure-marooned offspring did not? I was struck senseless by the dilemma.
Fortunately, Sierra sprung into action! She fetched a leaf, and attempted to sweep the dung beetle from her destiny. However, her mere 10-year-old courage faltered as the rumble became a roar when the truck turned the corner. Sierra shrieked, running to the edge of the road.
"Perhaps it will go between the wheels!" Hope yelled optimistically, remaining until the end of our tale true to her name.
We held our hands to our mouths in fear as the truck lumbered past. The workers smiled and waved a neighborly high-ho as they passed, unaware as the drama unfolding beneath their tires.
Six eyes shot to the middle of the road once the truck cleared. The birdsongs silenced. The wind fell suddenly. An impossibly humid heat bore down upon us. Horror! A flawlessly flat, perfect circle studded the road. (A sphere no more!) We gasped. We swooned. We moaned. Sierra blinked away tears, fearful lest she let on to her friend Hope, one whole year her elder, how deeply she felt the loss of that honorable dung beetle.
"At least she died doing what she loved to do," I said weakly, bowing my head in excruciating shame.
Oh, the guilt! The guilt! Why had I not leapt to the dung beetle's rescue? As my daughter teetered upon the edge of adolescence, the opportunity to gallantly save the dung beetle may have been the last gasp of my superhero status in Sierra’s eyes. I shall never tire of thrashing my soul for allowing my prissy instinct to avoid touching foreign poo to interfere with my own maternal devotion. What heathen power tied my feet to the ground, forbidding me from playing the hero before my daughter's eyes? Alas. I shall never know. And I shall never forget the lesson of the dung beetle.
A more perfect sphere of poo there never was.
To read more humorous essays and watch silly webisodes, check out "My Nephew is a Poodle (and Other Random Thoughts)" at www.pamvictor.com.
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