When “My Octopus Teacher” won the Oscar for best documentary this year, I was reminded of my own cross-species experience.
Last fall, I was kayaking alone on the Paw Paw River in southwestern Michigan when I noticed a praying mantis standing on a fallen tree in the middle of the river. It seemed to watch as I passed. I circled back with nothing more in mind than a few iPhone photos before I scared it off. But it stayed put. And it really did seem to be watching me. In fact, it turned its head in my direction as I approached.
I knew nothing about these critters, so I Googled “are praying mantises dangerous to humans” and found out that, while they can be quite tough on their prey, they are harmless to us.
So I spent more than an hour with this giant insect. At first we just looked at each other. Then, my new friend began a tentative approach. It even climbed aboard and explored me and my kayak. For a while, it was inches from my face.
Unfortunately, our brief friendship did not end well. (I captured much of the encounter on my phone, which you can watch above.)
What did I learn from my temporary teacher? A lesson that Jane Goodall has been demonstrating for years: that with quiet patience one is more likely to observe the natural behavior of a creature in the wild.