The day after Hurricane Irene, my husband, daughter and I spent a few days vacationing at the beach. While there, our daughter Claire campaigned hard to bring home a new member of the family – a hermit crab. Apprehensive at first, my husband and I concluded it would be an easy enough pet to take of, so we said yes. Armed with bags of sand from the beach, a 2.5-gallon tank, various shells, a sponge, and a plastic palm tree, we headed home, already fond of the little hermit crab – now affectionately called Sam.
Once home, I looked more extensively at information on how to care for hermit crabs, as the pamphlet that came with Sam seemed inadequate. It turns out that, though “hermit” is in their name, they are anything but. Hermit crabs love to hang out with other hermit crabs, ideally in a pack of six to nine, though in their natural habitat they’ll hang out with a hundred of their kin. I wish they had told us about this at the Sea Shell Shop.
I immediately took on Sam’s loneliness, concerned for his sudden shift into isolation. We had another shell for him to play with in the tank, and I watched him lift it up, wondering if he was looking inside for someone to hang out with. My concern grew as the days passed. I put a life-size picture of Sam outside of his tank, and he seemed to respond to it, spending hours sitting in front of the picture. It was no substitute for company, but at least it gave him a lift.
Claire and I did attempt to buy another hermit crab for Sam here at home. Sadly, the pet store crabs we looked at weren’t climbing all over each other as they were at the beach, but rather were shrunk deep down into their shells, far apart from one another, appearing almost dead. We considered one crab that had some spark to him, that is until he used his defense pincer on my palm in a death grip that lasted over five minutes. Though I called the crab a couple of less-than-kind names as he continued to dig into my flesh with a vengeance, I knew that it wasn’t his fault. He had been lifted from his natural habitat into an unhappy world.
Sam would have to be on his own, for now.
Hermit crabs also love humidity. I came up with the idea to put an electric blanket over the tank along with a wet washcloth. This upped the humidity factor, and Sam seemed happier. I found myself checking on him often, wondering if he was eating enough, if he was healthy and happy, if he had enough to do within his habitat to be entertained; if he was still alive. My husband was getting a bit jealous of the attention I was giving Sam, and Claire wanted to know if we got a friend for Sam would I worry twice as much.
I never grew up with pets and learned quickly from Sam that when another living creature joins the family, I feel a strong obligation to take care of him. Because Sam can’t speak words I am familiar with, I don’t know what he is thinking and feeling, and I worry that not enough is being done to meet his needs. Of course, I also have no idea of the extent to which Sam thinks and feels, but I sense it’s enough to justify concern. Sitting before his habitat watching him crawl about, I find myself obsessed with this tiny life before me. Observing him is an almost Zen-like experience. Except for the worry. That’s not so Zen.
A week after returning from the beach, we were hit with buckets of rain – the effects of Hurricane Katia. It felt like an actual rainforest for a couple of days, except that it was Baltimore. Given how humid it was outside, I brought Sam’s tank out onto the porch and sat with him. I felt like both of us were taking in the unnatural, abundant rainfall, the air so thick and perfumed by flower and soil. I found myself listening to the rain, to the wind, and soon after to the signs of global warming. In the company of Sam, I reflected on the tending of things small and large.
Some say that hurricanes are natural, that floods are an extension of this natural occurrence. I would agree. I also know that there is entirely too much carbon in the atmosphere, causing extreme weather patterns. More rain, more snow, more drought, more fires, heat waves, melting glaciers and rising sea levels. The science to support this is voluminous and thorough.
Sitting with Sam on the porch in the rain, I went from enjoying the temporary rainforest to feeling sad and uncertain, wondering how many people are listening to the Earth and if there are enough of us to turn the tide.
Taking care of anything makes the world a better place, be it a crab, a friend, a neighbor, a child, a garden or a meal. We do this most days and feel the benefits of our actions. Yet there is this large life, the planet Earth, that is in great need of tending, too, and it’s not as easy to care for as Sam or dinner. It requires our attention. It requires changes in how we live our lives. It requires some shared sacrifice, though nothing daunting. It requires commitment and innovation.
The Earth is our habitat and our life-support system. Our survival depends on its health and well-being. We need to take care of the planet that sustains us, and our individual actions are the means by which to make it happen. We’ve got to put the Earth on our schedule.
As I continue to make sure that Sam’s tank is humid enough, that Claire’s hair is brushed, that the bills are paid and there’s enough fruit in the house, so too do I need to wrap my water heater in an insulation blanket, unplug appliances I’m not using, buy locally grown food when possible and be evermore conscious of my car use. I want to explore what the green energy options are for our home. It’s clear that energy efficiency is a critical key to the global warming puzzle.
I also want to make sure we elect officials who truly favor getting the poison out of our air and water and the carbon out of the atmosphere over protecting polluting corporations. I’ll sign petitions and attend nearby protests I believe in to make sure elected officials know that repairing the Earth must be an immediate priority. I’ll do what I can, more and more, as time allows but also with appropriate urgency. After all, it’s the Earth we’re talking about, and “there is no Planet B.”
And at days end, I will check on Sam and read Claire to sleep – dancing between the tending of things small and large.