Every time the eyes see something unexpected, I mean really out of context, the human mind does curious things until it catches up. Years ago, a bobbing tiny dot very far away on a narrow and ruler-straight Dutch forest path gave me a magnificent jolt of prehistoric panic until I, milliseconds later, put dot and logic together and thought “person on a horse, advancing.” A motorway collision between two black Volvo station wagons of the 900 series left one of them neatly balancing on its side. It took me minutes after passing the site to figure out what I actually had seen there: no mystic over-sized black box but just one of Sweden’s most common cars on its side.
We have a little old door in our garden that leads to a small, damp and dark room which houses the pump of our freshwater supply. I have to go there occasionally because the garden hose has its faucet right there – watering the flowers involves an act of creep and crawl: the door is a step down and indeed very tiny. The pump room is occupied by a colony of shiny, dark brown spiders of a kind hitherto unknown to me, of which I actually have the suspicion that they don’t really belong in Sweden. They may lack the telltale hairy legs of woe, and they seem to move rather lazily most of the time, but they are nevertheless very large. These spiders sit in the dark corners and along our pump-dungeon’s ceiling. They are engaged in two main activities: the production of fuzzy white bundles containing more spiders that dangle everywhere, and feeding on each other. A stable number of the largest specimens survives. They do, luckily, not belong to those animals that let themselves down onto one’s head. Before I enter their realm, I blow and they go away, doubtless muttering spidery curses to themselves. Robin dislikes the pump room and avoids going there. I admit that, while I have no true crawly-things phobia, even I always look very carefully before I enter spiderland – one never knows.
Two weeks ago, outside the spider door, I saw a thing I could, for a minute or so, absolutely not identify. The only thing that was immediately clear to me was that I really didn’t want to get any closer. To my poor brain, frantically fumbling to decode what clutter my eyes were sending up, it seemed as if the Superspider, the one we always knew was down there someplace, but which we never saw, had finally emerged: chalk-white, bony and four inches long. But apparently it had met a tragic death out in the sun. Slowly it dawned on me that what I was seeing here was a medium sized crayfish on its back – stone dead and days old.
Now how does a single dead crayfish get deposited outside my spider door? To be honest, I actually have no idea, but I have a theory. Someone must have had a party. August is traditionally the great month for crayfish parties in Sweden. One sits outside, has a lot of vodka so one doesn’t notice the mosquitoes and the fact that the crayfish are hard to crack and one’s hands get very sore. It is great fun, actually, especially if one has a source for real Swedish freshwater kräftor.
But the best party has an end where nobody can face any more food. People disperse and leave the leftovers on the table until later and this is the moment of the glorious entry of the magpies which operate in pairs and have a simple and straightforward life goal: to get a hold of literally anything that is, in some manner, different. Magpies once filched a handfull of parts from a green and gleaming puzzle from the table on the balcony and neatly deposited them on the windowsill upstairs. No part was missing. Magpies are the only real threat for the squirrel; magpies are the source of utter distress for the young birds in May. But they clearly don’t know how to crack a crab, like the gulls do: by dropping them on a rock.
So this poor crayfish got very likely abducted from a party, was subsequently being gloated over for a while in our dark spider corner, and then left behind uncracked due to a lack of competence. Or it was put there as a practical joke by our neighbours. I’ll probably never know for certain.