We may be new to homesteading, but we aren’t new to having to say goodbye to critters we love. The past week has been one of those times when my sweet youngest boy has had to learn how to say goodbye to something he loves even when he wasn’t ready to.
For me it’s easy to say that these little passings are just little and easy. But to a 9 year old boy who has a heart as big as Texas and a passion for the things that become his affections, it’s not been so easy.
Last week I shared about the hornworms getting killed by the braconid wasps and how my son kept saying he wanted to see a hornworm moth (sphinx moth). I decided that the next two hornworm caterpillars we found we would break off tomato leaves and save them in the butterfly tower so we could watch them go through metamorphosis as they turn into moths. He was so excited.
And then about two days after we did this, he came to me with a sad look on his face. He announced that there was bad news. He had found that one of the caterpillars had wasp larva popping out on its back. He sadly took it to the chickens and let them have it.
He returned to the butterfly tower with fresh tomato leaves and was hopeful for caterpillar number two. But the next day, that one had wasp larva emerging as well. He was just sad and fed that one to the chickens as well.
Then we had the question come up about how chicken eggs are fertilized. Since we have a rooster, we can pretty much assume that every egg we get will be viable and if incubated for the 21 days could result in baby chicks.
So, the inevitable question came next…are we actually eating baby chickens when we eat the eggs then? Of course not. We are eating fertilized eggs that did not develop past day one in the egg. When we realized that one of our chickens was a roo, I immediately knew that at least one of my boys would have an emotional issue with eating the eggs. We did enjoy our first meal of fresh eggs recently, and my youngest boy did eat them. But he was slow to eat them and had a lot weighing on his mind. He ate slowly and quietly. I imagine over time it may get easier for him. I certainly won’t force him to eat eggs.
This is how I know we aren’t ready to raise meat chickens yet.
And then there was today. Our beloved garden spider, Shelob died. We found her body laying in the garden bed below her web. Several days ago she laid her eggs and wrapped it up in a ginormous sac twice as big as her body. I knew it was only a matter of time before she would depart from this world. I think the boy knew that, too, but wasn’t ready to think about it.
Here she is before she laid her eggs. She was quite bulbous and rotund.
Afterwards, she was half the spider.
The egg sac is huge. I would love to know how many babies will pour out of there next week. As you can see, the egg sac is larger than the cherry tomatoes!
Shelob has done her job though. She ate bugs, she filled her tummy as she did her part to balance out the insect populous, and she secured a future generation of garden spiders in a place that she knows is a 24-hour a day diner. We will miss her. She was quite beautiful to look at. And even though she always moved out of my way when I needed to pick tomatoes, I still respected that she could just as easily have bitten me any number of times. It was always a fun treat to find her every morning and see what she had in her web.
Recently, she had a cicada, three times bigger than her. The next day all that was left was a hollow shell of the cicada, almost fully in tact, minus the juiciest parts of the head.
As you may recall, the boy loves to save specimens of insects, seeds, and leaves he may come across. I had hoped that when the day of Shelob’s departure came, that he would get to save a perfect specimen, but the ants had beat us to her body. This of course further upset the boy, not that he couldn’t keep her specimen, but that the ants decimated most of her before he could say goodbye. Afterwards, he said he didn’t want to save her anyways, but I know that’s just a stoic front he’s trying to maintain. Maybe if he could have found her earlier he would have buried her.
For most of us, these losses aren’t that big of a deal. But to my boy who loves all creatures large and small, it is a big deal. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone this afternoon. He’s just quietly sitting with a book on the sofa and doesn’t want to play with any toys or games and doesn’t want to be bothered.
These are learning opportunities for him though. They are part of the cycle of life. These little lessons won’t make it any easier when the time comes for one of our pets to have to depart from us. We’ve suffered the loss of a pet before, too many times before, so we know that pain well. I know this boy is not ready for us to raise any livestock that will eventually become a meal for us, so we don’t have that intention any time soon. But I know that more difficult days of the harsh realities of homesteading will be here one day. Until then, we hope to just enjoy one day at a time with whatever God sends our way to enjoy.
Also, I love that this boy prays for the little creatures he finds and loves. This boy knows how to melt my heart and humble me. I need to learn how to be in the moment appreciating the smallest details of life.
Happy homesteading, even on the tough days.