Creature Feature

Hello again from the Big Blue!


I’ve been pondering ways to illustrate what life is like here but a trip to the post office on Monday summed it up nicely for me. First, I must back track:


I have a short story I submitted to a Canadian magazine and in their rejection letter to me they, essentially, said, “almost”. The editor made some notes, invited me to do some rewrites and re-send the story. In the writing world, this is a very, very good rejection letter and I took the editor’s advice to heart. The magazine only accepts submissions four times per year and the deadline for the next one is February 7th. I finished the rewrites on December 31st.  Should I send the story regular mail and risk missing the deadline? I wondered. No, I decided I’d better send it Express Mail or Priority Post; Fed Ex if necessary, the faster the better.


Off I dashed to the post office, frantic to get my story out before everything closed for the New Year holidays. I jumped off my scooter and kissed the envelope for good luck before entering the sparse, cinderblock office of the Cook Islands Post Office. (OK, yes I have one superstition, one kiss for any story I send out to the world -two superstitions, I guess, if you count knocking twice on the fuselage of any airplane I fly on before entering and after exiting.) I slapped my envelope on the counter, “What’s the quickest way to send this to Canada?” The woman behind the desk stared at me, blinked slowly, and then drifted off in contemplation. About a minute later she answered, in no hurry, “The fastest way is to send it in the mail.”


I’ve never wanted to say, “Well, duh!!!” more in my life. But I refrained. As it turns out, there is no Express, Priority, or any other fast type of mail here; there is only mail, plain and simple. Even the idea one would need such a thing as fast mail is a foreign concept to Aitutakians.


That’s life on a small South Pacific Island for you.


Another facet of island life is adjusting to living with various critters. You are already quite familiar with our rooster issues. There are also several goats on the island, and a number of pigs, though the goats and pigs are generally penned in or tied up…and quiet. Oddly, there are no dogs here, not one. The absence of canines is a bit of a mystery. Two popular stories are, first, that many, many years ago the islanders blamed the dogs for an outbreak of leprosy, killed them all, and forbade any more to enter; second, that a dog bit the king’s son with the same result as the first story. I love dogs but, whatever the reason, I’m glad they are absent as I’m not sure I could handle nightly, non-stop barking and cock-a-doodle-do-ing.


Our ceiling and walls function as a gecko highway. At night, scores of our cold-blooded friends come out to prowl for insects, and, sometimes, each other. Geckos are cannibals, distantly related to real estate agents, I believe. They are a welcome addition to our home as they kill my least favorite critters – bugs.


Of all the bugs that inhabit our world, ants are the ones that fascinate and disgust me the most. Anyone who lives in a warm climate knows about ants. One of our first nights in Baja I made the mistake of leaving my almost-empty can of Coke on the kitchen counter and awoke to a swarm of horror movie proportions.


And, speaking of horror movies, I think I was scarred at an early age when it comes to ants. Did you ever see that cleverly titled movie, “Ants”, with Suzanne Somers, where a swarm of ants takes over a posh, seaside resort? (Filmed on Vancouver Island, FYI). Well, Suzanne dies naked, in bed, in the first five minutes I think but the heroine ends up, in the final scene, covered with black ants, with a straw in her mouth to breathe. Yikes! I can’t remember why the ants were there, or how they actually killed anyone, but I do remember there were a lot of them, and I refused to sleep in my own bed that night. (My mom told me they weren’t real ants, just pieces of rice, painted black, with tiny roller skates attached, but I wasn’t buying that.)


While the ants have not taken over our resort, (yet), they have definitely made themselves at home on the property. Most of the time I barely notice them, scurrying to and fro, always busy, always with some important task to finish. (If Aitutaki was run by ants, you better believe there would be Express Mail!) There are no Fire Ants here – an aptly named species, let me tell you – so it’s easy to ignore them. But, every now and then, for no apparent reason, a colony decides to flee its home en masse. So, there you are, eating your dinner of meat-that-isn’t-fish and Pam’s stir-fry veggies, when all of a sudden there’s an eruption of ants out of some crack or crevice! They run in all directions, carrying their eggs, screaming “Run for your lives!! Don’t forget the Express mail packages!!!” (Or at least I imagine they scream that). Their rampage comes to a decisive halt when the Princess-inator releases a toxic cloud of “Rapid Kill”. Then they all stumble around, clutching their thoraxes, and wheezing, “Tell my larvae I love them!”, before keeling over.


What?! So I kill a few ants. Hey, listen, I’ve seen how these swarms end and you are not going to catch me covered in ants, breathing through a straw!

Other, more docile, critters we share space with are the resident hermit crabs. During the day, these shy crustaceans hunker inside their shells, under the house, but at night, look out, it’s party time! The nightly March of the Hermit Crabs is a spectacle not to be missed. By sunset, the yard is covered in them. Prez found one last week who’d abandoned his shell and taken up residence in a sleek, black plastic tube. What’s next? Hermit Crabs wearing Mercedes symbols around their necks, or letting their shells hang so low you can see the crack of their carapace??


We have also inherited two cats. Marmalade, (guess what colour he is), spends a large portion of the day sleeping, which makes me think of, and miss, Emily. (FYI, she is doing just fine with Grandpa. His training is coming along nicely.) The other cat I have renamed Monster. Her real name is Tiger Lily but Monster is more appropriate. Prez likes Monster because he has this weird, kitty foot fetish and Monster will let him touch her paws…for a few minutes before she goes all wonky and tries to bite him. (See what I mean about the name?). Do NOT be fooled by the cuteness you see below! 


And while, technically, we don’t live with the critters in the water, we do spend significant amounts of time with them. Fish have personalities – personalities I endow them with, true, but personalities nonetheless. Damselfish are among my favorite fish. Odd name, there is nothing damsel-ish about them. Damselfish have no concept of size and will defend their turf at all costs. Prez and I have had damsels no bigger than cherry tomatoes ram, (yes, ram), our masks! There are small, black and white Bannerfish here I’ve dubbed The Nibblers. Usually timid, these coral-huggers will let their curiosity get the best of them, if you are patient and hold very still. I like to hover over the coral head with my palm outstretched. Eventually, the Bannerfish just have to know what those five white floating things are, swim over, and start nibbling on my fingers and thumb. It tickles.


Porcupine fish are shy and solitary. They’re not fantastic swimmers and balloon out to beach ball proportions when frightened, so I consider them the nerds of the fish world. The Sergeants are mooches. Wherever you swim, they follow you around, “Hey, hey, you got any food? Yeah, you with the big eyes and the tube sticking out of the water! C’mon, I’ll wash your mask for you! Just a little food??The Mooches Butterflyfish are beautiful and they know it. Snobs. Squirrelfish and Soldierfish hang out under ledges, in the dark, waiting to mug unsuspecting Porcupine fish. I could go on and on…no wait, come back, I’ll stop!


Hello, my name is Princess and I’m a fish-a-holic.


Very well, changing topics…


We continue to be busy. Yesterday, we said goodbye, or rather “ciao”, to our Italian guests. This week, Italians are Prez’s favorite nationality – he has a new favorite nationality every week. I have to admit, though, Prez may be a closet Italian. All I can tell you is there was a lot of loud talking, laughing, and crazy gesticulating going on this week, and for once it wasn’t all being done by my husband!


(The guy with the long hair is a Canuck – you can tell because he’s thinking polite thoughts – the rest are our Italian friends. Hmm, maybe it wasn’t just the pasta that made Prez’s eyes pop out?)

The Italians and a Canuck

Well, I suppose I should get back to work. The rain has returned and the clouds and I are playing laundry roulette. Will I get the sheets off the line before the next deluge? Tune in next week and find out! For now, think of me the next time it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight!

Oh, I almost forgot! I have to put in a shameless plug for our friend David Jacox and his company davewear. So, if you are a Dave, or know a Dave, or wish you were a Dave, then please have a glance at some of the very witty T-shirts offered by a couple of good Canadian kids! And, if you buy anything, tell ’em the Princess sent you.  


QUESTION: What is with those ants?


Until next week, I hope this finds you healthy, & lovin’ life!

The Princess


p.s. I had quite a few people respond to last week’s Coconut Chronicle, all informing me they agree with Prez, and confirming his theory that I am not allowed to complain about the heat. Of course, I deleted all your emails before he could read them! Mwa ha ha! 

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