Aliens in Plain Sight

Pretzel and I just finished a bug pinning class. We learned how to rehydrate a butterfly and how to pin it so that it can dry with it’s wings splayed out. It was pretty cool, and actually far easier than I thought.

It got me thinking about all the times that I’ve gotten to see cool bugs. When we lived in Wisconsin, we saw Monarch butterflies every summer.

Monarch butterfly refueling in Cape May as it prepares for fall migration to Mexico. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Brendel.

These orange muthafuckas

They had huge, fat green caterpillars that were slow and ponderous. They ate all the milkweed, and it actually made the monarch butterfly poisonous if swallowed. But they were ubiquitous—we fucked around with the bugs, we caught the butterflies and let them go again, we used to find the cocoons. I even vaguely remember seeing one hatch and dry its wings out one summer.

I’m not sure if it occurred to you when you were younger, but we haven’t seen those again since we moved. We happen to be right on the border of where they migrate to. Maybe people have seen some, but I definitely haven’t seen one in perhaps decades.

No one pinned a monarch butterfly at the class. But I was thinking about them as we were looking at our small butterflies. And having to handle them and pin them caused me to rediscover the bizarre and striking beauty of insects. I do not remember what butterfly I had to pin—hang on lemme find it.

Image result for Charaxes Smaragdalis

Charaxes Smaragdalis

Look how blue that shit is. Damn. Mine’s not that blue. It’s an insect—seen as the lowliest of the creatures—and it’s freakin’ gorgeous. And then I think back to how freakin’ orange monarchs are. These things are surreal. They are alien.

I remember when I was a junior in highschool, and the WASL tests were going on (it stands for Worthless As Shit Learning). School always had late start during those two weeks, but I went to school anyway because I would get dropped off by mom on her way to work.

One day I found a huge fucking moth.

Related image

Might not be this one, but similar.

It couldn’t fly. I didn’t want to leave it on the sidewalk, so I picked it up and carried it around for a couple hours. It just chilled on my hand, and I went and showed various teachers. Most of them were not excited for me to bring giant bugs to them. It was as big as my palm.

Before class started, I figured I would take it out to the football field near the forest to give it its best shot. I placed it near a fence and tried to nudge it off my hand. It flapped it’s wings a couple times and then just fluttered away. It was fucking mystical.

It started to make me think about all the other candid moments I’ve had with other wild animals and bugs. It’s hard to appreciate them at the time, but there is something so distilled and mystical about nature. You don’t really come face to face with it, and when you do you start to understand what about it our ancestors used to worship and emulate from it. Nature is all we’ve ever known on this planet, and somehow this shit is so alien.

When was the last time you ever took a step back from nature and really tried to parse the different things you might encounter. We take it for granted because we grew up with it—we’ve seen these creatures in pictures and videos. But have you ever really considered it? We assume that most creatures have eyes and a mouth. A spider has eight fucking eyes, and it has mandibles instead of a mouth. Like, try not to imagine a spider, try to just think about a creature with eight eyes and pincers for lips. What the hell is even happening on our planet anymore?

I’m going to list a couple descriptions and avoid using identifying language, and I want you to try not to think about what animal I’m describing.

A four legged creature with a long, tapering face. It’s fur is short, coarse, and tan colored. From the back of its skull, it has two massive protrusions that twist in a single helix that are longer than the skull itself.

A small creature with a long, segmented body. From each segment of it’s body is a pair of legs. From it’s head, massive probing antenna that tap and brush everything in front of it.

A creature that pushes itself along with a couple external flaps, and a tail that propels it through fluids. It has a scaly skin, and when threatened, it balloons in size and becomes covered in spines.

A creature with a long tongue that it can shoot out to capture prey. It has two, bright red eyes on either side of its head. It has long thin limbs with massive, circular fingertips that let it climb vertical surfaces.

A creature with two brittle wings covered in brightly covered powders. It has no mouth, instead it has a long tongue it can unfurl to drink nectar from flowers. It’s eyes are multi-faceted spheres.

How bizarre is our world?


A Guide to Ferret Terminology

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to write and run a tabletop campaign. Yes, I consider myself a decent fiction writer, but I can’t imagine how hard it would be to INVOLVE my audience in the actual execution of the story. There is a huge difference between writing your story and letting the audience experience it and actually letting your audience decide how the story goes, which is basically what a tabletop game is. That would be so incredibly frustrating. As a tabletop gamer, I really, really appreciate every GM I have ever had. You guys rock!

To shift gears a little bit, Daniel, this week you found out you would be able to come visit me in March. I am so incredibly pumped! I can’t wait to see you and just hang out with you. Man, nothing like adulthood and over 300 miles distance to make me really appreciate my siblings.

And, of course, when you visit you will also be visiting my four ferrets, Bandito, Crush, Fijit, and Herman. Well, to help prepare you for your visit I thought I would write a handy little terminology guide.

Here are just a few terms you will hear tossed around the Smudde household:

Small Business: a group of ferrets is called a business and so our little clan is lovingly called the the small business. We also call them our start-up business and our portfolio.

Catsnakes: another term for ferret, derived from their cat-like features and lack of spine.

Wigglefloofs: another term for ferret, derived from their fuzziness and lack of spine.

Carpet Sharks: another term for ferret, derived from their penchant to sneak around and bite things, like ankles and toes. We also call them couch sharks, blanket sharks, and fuck faces.

Dook: the small grunting noise ferrets make when they’re excited or feeling playful. Have you ever read something mildly funny and chuckled without really opening your mouth? That’s basically what it sounds like.

War Dance: when ferrets are feeling playful, they bounce around. It’s like a dance, but without any sort of grace or coordination.

Sneaky Pancake: when you sneak up on a ferret their first instinct is to lay flat on their bellies because they think our vision is based on movement. It also helps them blend in to their surroundings, but it doesn’t really work when the ferret in question is dark brown and laying on the white linoleum.

Retreat: other times when you sneak up on a ferret they panic and back up, but without taking their eyes of you. We’ll often yell out “retreat!” when they do this or just start making beeping noises at them until they disappear.

Sharking: when ferrets are chasing each other or are chasing you, they’ll open their mouth and just touch their teeth to each other. We call it sharking because they’re basically exploring with their teeth, but without the blood loss or surfboard damage.

Offended their Honor: sometimes, without warning, a ferret will burst into a war dance and just bolt, even when you’ve done nothing to provoke them. They do this because, somehow, you have offended their mother or something and now feel the need to fight something.

Ferret Train: if one ferret is running, they all have to run. They run in straight lines to conceal their numbers, of course.

Stashing: anything and everything in our apartment belongs to our ferrets and to make sure we know this they will collect things and hide them. This collection is called a stash and we have found rubber bands, ferret toys, bracelets, pens, crochet hooks, and the television remote in the stash.

Vacuuming: our ferrets, especially Bandito, love eating and they especially love eating the food off the floor. We call this vacuuming.

Fijit Frimbocket: Fijit’s full name. She was named after a Pathfinder character.

Dude Crush: Crush’s full name. We also call him Crush n’ Stuff and the Crushinator, but you have to say Crushinator like he’s a pro wrestler.

Blood Bag: another name for Herman and it’s all your fault, Daniel. I also call him Max and Herman the German after a character from Scrubs. His real name is Herman Munster.

So, there you have it Daniel. Some terms to remember when you come visit the Smudde household in March.



Night night, Miss Boo

This week at the Center for Animal Rescue and Education a lioness passed away. She had been having mobility issues with her back legs and her care takers decided to put her to sleep instead of letting her suffer.

Her name was Tabula and despite never meeting her in person, I miss her dearly.


Tabula was one of the “celebri-kitties” in BigCatDerek’s Vines and webcasts. She was an old gal, hard of hearing and almost blind, and she had a larger than life personality. Miss Boo would be happy one minute, grouchy the next, and always had to have things her way.

I wasn’t quite sure how to feel when I first heard she had passed away. Like I said, I had never met Tabula in real life so did I have any right to actually miss her? Why did I miss her? Where did this weird sense of attachment over a lioness in Texas come from? Tabula wasn’t the first animal to pass away at CARE that I knew of, so why was she different?

Celebrity worship is not a rare thing in our culture. Everyone seems to have an actor or musician or artist they adore and would consider a dear friend if asked. It seems weird at first, very stalker-esque in my opinion, but when you think about how much movies, music, and art impact our lives it makes perfect sense. There’s power behind entertainment. Entertainment can evoke emotions like fear, happiness, or despair and entertainment can help pull us out of reality, helping us cope with the stress of real life. Considering how vital this can be to the human experience, it’s no surprise that sometimes people develop emotional attachments to their idols. These celebrities have affected our lives in very meaningful ways, despite never meeting us in real life.


For me the BigCatDerek webcasts are an escape from the stress of the day. The cats are so adorable and Derek is so funny and honest, it’s like visiting old friends during the day. Tabula was one of my favorite friends to visit. She was always a bit grouchy with this old lady smoker growl. She would get into fights with inanimate objects and lay on her back and paddle her feet through the air when she was feeling frisky. She reminded me of the old smoker aunt we all have who tells inappropriate stories at the dinner table and never gets married. Just old and loveable.

And now I won’t see another vine of Miss Tabula. I’ll never hear her roar again or see her do the classic Tabula “backstroke.” She helped me get through some stressful times. Tabula did more for me than she’ll ever realize. No wonder I miss her.

I think Tabula’s death hit me harder than I expected because it also took death out of the abstract for me. We all know we’re going to die, it’s inevitable, but I think very few of us realize how quickly things can take a turn for the worst. We keep the concept of death at arm’s length to survive. When I started watching BigCatDerek’s webcasts I knew animals had passed away, but they had passed away before I really became a part of the community. There deaths were abstract, singular instances that would never happen again anytime soon.

Then Tabula passed away. She was the first one of the CARE cats to pass away while I was part of the fandom. I couldn’t keep this at arm’s length. A creature that somehow became a big part of my life was gone and it had all happened in the span of a week. It was so real, so very quick, and it brought the idea of death back into focus. Death can happen at any time.

I will miss Tabula, despite being a lioness I never met. She was one of the stars of the BigCatDerek webcasts and it will be difficult watching without seeing her sprawled out on her back asleep or pushing around her favorite green ball. And you know what, that’s okay. I’m allowed to feel something for her, because it’s human to care, it’s human to grow attached, and it’s human to be afraid of death.

Goodbye Miss Tabula. I’ll miss you very, very much.