As I sauntered through the woods the other day, checking out all the various flowers and plants which have suddenly burst into the scene. The woods above my house are now filled with vibrant shades of green with flowers dotting the landscape around the trail. The delicate purple Camus flowers blend in with the blackberries which are also in full bloom showing off white flowers, along with strawberries and all kinds of plants. And then there are the giant-leafed cow parsnip plants which now have bloomed with huge round flowers, and there are wild irises up there too. The maple and larch trees and ewes are filled with feather-like leaves now and of course, the Sitka spruces and Douglas Firs rise above everything. And there are ferns, so many ferns, and horsetails too.
But what I noticed the other day were the white pieces of spittle on several of the plants. I hadn’t seen them in many years, or maybe I hadn’t really looked before. But there they were. I even touched one with my baby finger just to make sure, and sure enough, they were not cotton from the cottonwood trees, but what looks like pieces of white spit. I saw a few of them as I continued my journey up the hill, becoming excited because I had forgotten about these spittlebugs.
Suddenly, I found myself transported back into time. It’s around 1965, and I’m in the backyard of the building we live at on Second Avenue in San Francisco near Lincoln Way and Golden Gate Park. The backyard system in San Francisco is vast and filled with trees, grasses, flowers, and bushes — and nature. Our friends had a redwood tree in their vast yard and a beehive as well. Parrots of all colors which had escaped sometimes flew around the backyards as well, and a large yellow duck named Wesley lived next door.
I stood outside in the backyard with my brother and sister, Michael and Jennifer, and David and Barry Hirrell from around the corner. I’m around nine years old, and we were checking out the seeds we had planted in our special designated area. My area was filled with stalks of sunflowers with the pretty yellow flowers smiling at everyone. I wanted sunflowers so I could gather sunflower seeds and feed them to my pet guinea pig. We all got to choose, all five of us, each with our own plot though David and Barry lived around the corner. The five of us along with one or two of the Solis kids from the street formed the “Second Avenue Gang.” We hung out together pretty much every day unless I was fighting with David Hirrell who was a year older than me. I was the oldest in my family.
Mr. Fentley, who lived in the garden apartment below our flat with Mrs. Fentley stood by the fuchsia bushes and chrysanthemums which were all in full bloom. I always wanted to pop the fuchsia flowers because they looked like they needed it, but Mr. Fentley had warned us not to do that, just let nature take its course.
When Mr. and Mrs. Fentley first moved in, I thought he was a scary mad scientist who experimented on animals. I mean, a sheep skull sat outside their door gathering flies and larvae. And two rabbits lived in the backyard for a little while and disappeared, not to mention the guinea pigs. I was afraid of the tall, bushy-haired man who often wore a white coat as if he had just returned from his laboratory.
We finally discovered that he wasn’t an evil scientist after all, that he was actually on a mission to help animals and plants and basically every living thing. And by now, I was okay with Mr. Fentley. He was our friend, and we even knocked on the door sometimes to ask Mrs. Fentley if Mr. Fentley could come out and play with us. She usually said yes. They had a large black dog named Ivan who howled when the Fentleys weren’t home, and he was very nice.
We all could see that Mr. Fentley was in deep concentration examining something on the plants, and we all gathered around him to see what was up. That’s when he showed us what looked like pieces of spit on some of the leaves and in between the stem and leaves.
“See these? They’re called spittlebugs.”
We all laughed because yes, the white pieces looked exactly like spit.
Then he wiped off some of the spit with his finger and we saw the tiniest green bug inside the spit. Mr. Fentley said the spittlebug was a nymph who would grow into a froghopper.
“Wow!” We were all so excited. Life is everywhere, even in places you don’t expect.