Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

A Raccoon Story.

May 23, 2010

Bettina Bergh                                                                             760 words

2140 Battle Row

Augusta, Georgia 30904-3502

Phone and Fax: (706) 733-4012

A Raccoon Story


Bettina Bergh

When I was a zookeeper back in the early seventies, I had the pleasure of dealing with a fairly tame raccoon who lived in an outside cage. I thoroughly enjoyed the times when I could take her out on a leash and use her in animal demonstrations or just let her explore the museum grounds. Raccoons are very intelligent and insatiably curious about anything and everything around them. Every object that they get their hands on, they dunk in water if it’s nearby. Within minutes of feeding them, their rations are dissolved in water as they explore the more solid chunks of food. Raccoons are messy because of this habit, but one forgives them for they are so enjoyable to watch.

One day I took the female out of her cage, and took her up to the main building where food was prepared. In the food room we had quite a few cages of animals on shelves along the walls. Before I knew it, she slid out of her collar and scampered onto one set of shelves where we had 20 mouse cages. She began dumping them on the floor. Suddenly, there was one raccoon and 30 mice running around the room.

When handling an excited raccoon, it’s a wise precaution to have heavy linesman’s gloves on. I had left mine out near her cage, so I had to run back down the stairs and get them- all of the while hearing CRASH, CRASH, as she dumped more cages on the floor.

In spite of valiant efforts on her part to escape my grasp, I managed to get the raccoon back into her cage. She was not happy and let me know by chirring and squealing all of the way there.

I dashed back upstairs, and started chasing down what seemed to be over a hundred mice running around the room. Several small hawks and owls were hooting and calling as they watched this maelstrom of hawk and owl hor d’oeuvres running around the room.

I grabbed and grabbed mice and dumped them into cages. I moved garbage cans and the refrigerator, and grabbed at least 15 more. I ran a broom behind the shelves, and more mice scurried out. Just when I thought I had them all, I heard more squeaking coming from the cabinets under the counter where we mixed the food. This meant I now had to empty the cabinets and lift up their bottom shelves giving the mice plenty of time to scurry off in yet another direction. Naturally, there were no mice under the sink where I could easily check for them. I had to leave for about an hour because it was time to feed and clean-up after some other animals.  When I returned, it was obvious from the occasional squeak, that there still were escapees loose in the room.

I spoke to my supervisor about the mice still at large. We decided it would be in our best interest to set out mouse traps. We managed to trap four more mice in the next few days. In a few days I thought I smelled something funny. I looked and looked but didn’t find anything suspicious. It was soon obvious that we had a dead mouse in the room- and pinpointed the smell coming from the cabinets. I was the only one small enough who could fit in the space. I crawled into the cabinet and found a very ripe mouse stuck in one of the traps. I grabbed the trap, got up, and dashed outside to the dumpster and threw in the trap and the contents.

Several days later, I again brought the raccoon inside on a leash for another animal demonstration. This time I was smart and carried my linesman’s gloves with me. I checked to make sure that she couldn’t slide the leash backwards over her head. As I brought her up the stairs, she tugged at the leash as we headed down the hallway, for she wanted to get to the mouse cages again, since raccoons have excellent memories. I pulled out a piece of apple from my pocket and to my relief, she continued along the hallway and ate her treat. I had to repeat this several times to refocus her attention before she stopped trying to get to the mice again. And fortunately, she never got off of her leash again when I had her out of the cage.


Watch That Spider Now!

May 20, 2010

Watch That Spider Now!


Bettina Bergh

Joanne sat terrified watching the black widow crawling towards her cleavage across her dress.  The soft, velvety voice near her ear said: “Don’t scream or move now, for then she will get scared and bite you.  And, if you try to get help, I’ll touch her and then you will be bitten, for sure.”

Joanne was playing at a slot machine at the Fiesta, and was dressed up in some of her best finery.  There were many other people nearby, she’d noticed earlier, but no one paid attention when she sat down at her machine.  All were just staring at the machines and pulling the handle down again and again.  She was willing to bet that no one noticed that anything was wrong.

Joanne was on vacation with her husband, and she’d been looking forward to the glamor for weeks.  And now, here she was frozen with fear staring at the spider.

“I don’t want you to get hurt.  Take off your ring and your bracelet, and give them to me.” Joanne did this very carefully, hardly breathing in her fear.”  And now, move slowly, and take your necklace off.”  Joanne did as she was told.

Again the voice spoke softly next to her.”  I am going to take your earrings now.   I am so glad that you dressed up tonight; your jewels are so beautiful.”  Joanne said nothing, just hoping she wouldn’t disturb the spider, as it was resting at the edge of her dress.

“Now don’t move or call out for 5 minutes.  I am going to take the spider and go, but any premature movement on your part will cause my partner to silence you.”  And a hand reached down with a pair of tweezers and grabbed the spider, and moved out of sight.

Joanne nearly cried with relief, and then fought to keep quiet, for she wanted to scream for help.  All of her best jewelry was gone.  Why hadn’t she worn her costume jewelry tonight?  And where was her husband?  He had gone off into the casino, promising to come back soon.  If he had been here this wouldn’t have happened.  Joanne watched the clock’s minute hand crawl forwards, and finally after five minutes, go up and ran to the blackjack table that was ten feet away.  Nobody nearby noticed as she left the slot machine area.  The other people just kept pulling the one-armed bandits arms’ forward, again and again.

“I’ve been robbed! All of my jewelry is gone! A man came up to me and put a spider on me and told me it would bite and kill me.  Didn’t you notice anything?

The officers were there in minutes.  Joanne was taken to a nearby room, so she wouldn’t distract the other gamblers.  They had paged her husband, and he was escorted into the room.  George tried to calm her down, for she was crying and shaking, and seemed to be in shock.  Someone brought her a drink of water, and she drank it gratefully, and then she cried some more.

“I am Officer Morgan, and I need to get some information from you, if we are going to be able to catch this thief.  What happened- I hear that you were threatened with a spider?”

Joanne shook as she told him about the black spider.”  He dropped it on my shoulder, said that it was a black widow.  He prodded it with tweezers to make it move towards my skin.  He said if I screamed or moved that it would bite me, and it was almost onto my skin.  I was scared to do anything, I didn’t want to die. ”

Then she recounted how she slowly removed her diamond ring and gold bracelet.  And how scared she was to take off her gold and diamond necklace, which was about three inches from the spider.  Joanne shivered again just thinking about it crawling towards her breast.

“Do you think that you will catch him?  Will you be able to get me my jewelry back?  They were all gifts from my husband- anniversary gifts.   I’ll probably never see them again.  Oh, God, my vacations ruined. ”

Did you see the man’s face?”

“No, I didn’t see any part of him but his arm and hand.”

“What color hair was on his hand?  Was it blond?  Can you remember what color his suit or shirt was?  Did he wear cuff links or a ring?  Now take your time and think, for we need your help to find him. ”

“His skin was deeply tanned, but his hair was black.  His shirt was light blue, I didn’t notice any jewelry.  He wore a black suit, but I really didn’t concentrate on it.  I was just watching that spider, and praying I wouldn’t get bitten. ”

“What about his voice?  What was it like?  Did he have an accent or a twang?  Did he sound like he was from the country or the city?  Did you hear anything before the spider landed on your dress?”

“He sounded smooth- very calm.  He sounded like he was from the city, but he didn’t sound like he was from Philadelphia or Chicago, where I’ve lived.  He also didn’t have a country accent, but where would he have gotten the spider if he didn’t live in the country?  He mentioned he had a partner, but I never saw or heard anyone else.  And, yes, I did hear a slight popping sound just before I saw the spider.  I guess it must have been a jar opening. ”

Detective Morgan sent every other policeman- all were in plainclothes- out into the casino, searching for anyone wearing a light blue shirt and a black jacket.  He told them look into the different gambling rooms, but especially where people were isolated from the main crowds.  He knew that his chances of finding the thief were small, for he was probably gone from the casino. And, no suspect was caught that night who fit that description, although there were many men wearing similar clothing in the different gaming rooms.

The next day, there were plainclothesmen all around the casino.  Some were at the blackjack table near the slot machines, where a lot of women were playing the machines.   They spread themselves out so that someone was near every woman who was wearing expensive jewelry as they played.  They also had extra security men looking down on the gamers from the see-through mirrors and the hidden lenses near the lights scattered throughout the rooms.  But no one had anything stolen from them that night.

Saturday night the police continued their vigil. Some of the plainclothesmen gambled at the tables, but many observed others who were on winning streaks.  Others posed as waiters, and wandered throughout the casino offering drinks to hopeful gamblers of all ages and backgrounds.

Suddenly a scream was heard from a corner of the slot machine room.  A woman wearing lots of jewelry had knocked over her chair and was swatting at something with her purse.  Cops flooded the room, and sealed the exits.  They hoped that they had their quarry, at last.

“Help!” Agnes screamed.”  Someone dropped a spider on me! I don’t know if I killed it, or where it is!” The red-haired woman, was still hitting the table with her purse, and stomping on the ground.  A cop went over and played a flashlight all over the area where she had been sitting; he saw nothing move.

“What color was the spider? What happened to you?”

“I was at the machine, when I noticed that someone had approached me, and was standing almost behind me.  And then the spider dropped on me, and I screamed and knocked it off of me.  I saw a man trying to leave the room, but I don’t think that he got out, for the door was blocked by a man.”  He was wearing a dark blue suit and a light colored shirt, I think, and he had black hair. ”

“Look around, do you see anyone who looks like him in the room?”

Agnes looked around carefully at the men in the room.  “I can’t be sure, for all of them are looking at me, for I mainly saw his back as he tried to run away.”

Just then, one of the plainclothesmen escorted a man over towards her, and had him turn around away from her. “I saw him running towards the door when I came in, but he stopped when the doorway was blocked, and tried to hide behind some other men.   Could this be the man you saw?”

“Yes, it looks like him, but I barely saw him, for I was trying to kill that spider.   Yet, he is wearing a blue suit that might be it.  Boy, I’d like to kill him for scaring me like that!”

Agnes was brought to a different room, and asked to write down everything that had happened to her.  All of the other people in the room were questioned also, but few had noticed anything until they heard the scream.  And some, even then, hadn’t looked up, for they were too busy playing the machines.  A few had seen a man running, but weren’t sure what color his suit was.  All were told to write down what they had seen and heard, before they were allowed to resume gambling.

Meanwhile, plainclothesmen had surrounded the man, and told him they were bringing him to a room for questioning.  They were just getting ready to move him, while he was noisily protesting that he was innocent, when suddenly there was a commotion at the door.

“I know that voice! He is the man that robbed me.  I’m sure he’s the one.”  Joanne Turner, hearing the scream, had approached the room, and she was pointing straight at the suspect.  “Where are my jewels, you bastard, where are they?”  A plainclothesman quickly moved to Mrs.  Turner’s side, getting ready to restrain her if need be.  But then Joanne stopped and stared at the man, as the policemen turned him so that he faced her.   “I don’t believe it, I’ve seen him before.  I think he works with my husband, and his name is Bob Harris.  What is he doing here?”

Officer Barnett looked confusedly at Joanne.  “You really know this man?  He works for your husband?”  Then, he signaled to a uniformed cop nearby and said: “Go find Mr.  Turner, for we will need him to identify this suspect too.” Then he spoke to the alleged thief again: “And you, Sir, just who are you and where are you from?  I think we have a few questions that need to be answered.  But first, let’s get you into a secure area, where we will have some privacy. ”

When Mr.  Harris arrived at the interrogation room, his driver’s license was checked, and it was verified that he was Robert Harris, from Columbus, Ohio.   Meanwhile, a search of his jacket revealed he only had reading glasses in his breast pocket.  But, one lower pocket had a vial with a snap-off top, and a pair of tweezers, and the other had several pawn shop receipts.  “Look what we found!  Tell me, Mr.  Harris, why are you carrying these with you?  What do you use them for?  I’d say this is pretty incriminating evidence, considering what Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Williams have reported happening to them.”  But Bob Harris’ surprised them by answering: “I collect insects, so I need something to put them in when I catch them.”

George Turner was brought to the two-way mirror that allowed observers to see into the interrogation room.  He acted shocked upon seeing Mr. Harris there, and verified that Bob was one of his employees at his insurance agency, but that he didn’t know how Bob happened to be in Las Vegas.  And, he added, he had never known Bob to be interested in any way about insects except for killing flies when they landed near his coffee or donuts in the office.  “But, he doesn’t need to worry about flies landing in his office anymore”, George said, “For he is unemployed, as of now.  Gone.”

Then George asked the detective: “Have you found out why he is here?  And why he targeted Joanne?  And what he is doing with black widows in the first place? And have you found my wife’s jewels yet?”

Detective Ryan said: “Not yet, but he’ll probably talk pretty soon, after we tell him that you’ve identified him also… and what you said to us about his lack of interest in insects.

Upon further questioning, Bob Harris finally admitted that he had tried to rob Agnes Williams, but her reaction to the black widow had forced him to flee.   Unfortunately for him, though, his way had been blocked, and he was trapped by the police.

Bob was then asked about how he decided to use black widows as a weapon and why he had chosen to go to Las Vegas to pull-off the robberies.

Bob said that he had had no plans to go anywhere until he had heard office gossip about George and his wife’s upcoming trip to Las Vegas.  He then had remembered the diamond necklace and fancy earrings that Joanne had worn to the Christmas party last winter.  He had been to Las Vegas before and seen how the female tourists dressed up and wore expensive jewelry when they went to the casinos.  He also had noted how the men generally liked to play at the tables, while their wives preferred playing the slot machines. Bob had been short of cash right then because he had had heavy gambling losses at the track, and he figured he might be able to make some quick money by stealing some woman’s jewels, and then pay off his debts.  After all, there were pawn houses everywhere, so he doubted he’d be caught if he left town fast.  And, he figured Agnes would be dressed to the teeth like the other women, so he’d rob her first, and pawn the jewelry.  Maybe he would then have a go at the tables and strike it lucky so that he would go home with his pockets full of money.  Yes, he thought, this just might solve his money problems real easy.

As far as the black widow’s, he knew only too well how women were scared of bugs, but he also knew that he needed a kind that would scare them so bad they’d be quiet rather than scream and put on a show.  Bob had noticed that spiders really seemed to freak women out more than other bugs… and only a black widow could really hurt them.  He had heard about that brown spider that could bite people and cause ulcers, but he didn’t know where he could find one, and probably it wouldn’t scare women as bad.

Bob then had called his second cousin Joe who lived near Las Vegas, and found that there were black widow’s all around his yard and under his mobile home.  Joe agreed to help him for a couple of grand as his cut, for he was pretty sure that Bob wouldn’t want to draw attention to himself by searching anywhere else for spiders.  That is when Bob knew that he had found his source for the spiders, and his plans fell into place.  Bob applied for and got his vacation time at the same time as George Turner’s was, and made reservations at another casino.  This was easy to arrange because he had overheard the staff talking about which casino the Turners were staying at.  Then Bob arranged to visit Joe’s place after flying in, and get some spiders from under his trailer, and then return immediately to Las Vegas.

Bob arrived in Las Vegas in mid-afternoon.  He drove to Joe’s, and climbed under the trailer had collected 3 big black female spiders.  He visited with Joe briefly, and showered and changed his clothes, for his pants were covered with dirt.  Bob then returned to Las Vegas, signed into his hotel room, and ate a huge steak at the buffet at the casino.  Then, he played blackjack and won some money while he kept watch for Joanne’s arrival in the slot machine area.

When Bob saw Joanne, she was fully engrossed in playing the machines.  He waited for a while to make sure that her husband wasn’t nearby, and then he went over and robbed her.  He then left hurriedly and pawned her jewelry at two pawn shops that were near the casino.  Bob was furious when he found out that the money he got at the pawn shop hadn’t been enough to pay off all of his debts, and realized that he would be forced to do another robbery to get more cash.  He just hadn’t planned on choosing a woman who screamed like a banshee, and could move as fast as Agnes did knocking that spider right off of her.  His only thought had been to get out of there fast, and to leave town on the next plane for Ohio or actually, anywhere.  And instead, here he was under arrest, with an angry boss and an angry cousin to boot, and he still owed all of that money in Ohio. “Damn”, he thought, “if I had picked a different woman, I’d probably be back home by now and not worrying about anything.”

As for the jewelry, the Turner’s would eventually get it back, for Detective Ryan had found it was still at Black Jack’s 24 Hour Pawn Shop, for no one had bought it.  But, now it was being held as evidence for Bob and Joe Harris’s trials scheduled later in the year.  The Turner’s decided that they really weren’t interested in gambling in Las Vegas any longer.  Once Bob and Joe were arrested and charged, Joanne and George flew home on the next plane.  And, the first thing that Joanne did after they got home was to call an exterminator and get their house and yard thoroughly sprayed, for she didn’t want to see any more spiders any time soon.

An Entomologist’s Childhood Memories.

October 25, 2009

I grew up in a New York City suburb in Queens County.  Our house was on a quarter of an acre of property, which in NYC was a fairly large yard.  One half of our yard was all gardens, and where we had lots of daylilies, a cactus area, and ferns in the shade of  a cluster of birch trees, 13 dogwood trees, two apple trees and a beautiful crabapple tree.  We also had a large Austrian pine, a gardenia, an ailanthus and a ginkgo tree that gave us additional shade.  And, we had flower pots of begonias, fuchsia and coleus scattered around the yard, which added to the beauty.

Our yard was always filled with birds and other animals, who were attracted to the flowers and plants at our place. Every year, we collected praying mantis egg cases from a nearby marsh and several large weed lots and placed them on the shingles outside my bedroom window.  I would watch them every day as it grew warmer, for I loved to watch the ¼ inch praying mantises hatch from the egg cases.  We would distribute them all around the yard where there were flowering plants, and watch them grow during the summer.  I also would bring praying mantises that I found in the neighborhood, and put them on a thorn hedge on outside of the side yard, and watch them  hunt each year.  In the Fall, before the first frost occurred, I would bring these praying mantises into my house, and place one mantis per set of curtains in the dining room, living room and mine and my parents bedrooms.  I loved handling, feeding, watering and watching them every day, and some lived almost until Thanksgiving each year.  My father would take close-ups of the praying mantises as they hunted, ate, molted, all summer, and later would photograph them mating, and take close-ups as the females made their egg cases in our yard and house.

Another tradition in our household was to raise around100 American wild silkworms and moths each year.  What got my parents interested in raising the silk moths was that my mother wanted to spin fabric using the silk moths cocoons in the future.  And so, when I was about four, my parents bought some Cecropia, Polyphemus and Ailanthus moth cocoons, and raised eggs from the moths that hatched in our house that year.  When I got older, I helped my parents continue to raise Cecropia caterpillars for the next twenty years.  We also raised Monarchs, Mourning Cloaks and Black Swallowtail caterpillars, and  my father photographed all of their life cycles in great detail.   I was also fortunate that my parents encouraged my love of insects, and allowed me to bring home and raise insects that I found in the neighborhood, and my father photographed them too.

It has been many years since my parents died, and I am now the owner of my father’s 2000 insect and spider photographs.  I am cataloging them, and cleaning the slides with Adobe Photoshop.  So far I have identified about 1700 and cleaned about 300 of these slides.  I many months of pleasurable work ahead of me before I am finished.   I have used Dad’s slides in an unpublished children’s book that I have written, and I plan to use more to illustrate articles on insects I am writing for magazines.  And, every time that I look at Dad’s slides, I marvel at his patience and skill as he took beautiful picture after picture, of these marvelous and fascinating little animals.