Woolly bear tales grow each year

October 19, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Editor's note: Tim Rowland is on vacation. This column was originally published Nov. 6, 1996.

If you can see your breath in November, it must be Mummers' Parade night.

That and there's something called a "Woolly Bear Contest" going on. I'm not surprised that we have an actual competition to judge the biggest, hairiest and surliest woolly bear caterpillars. There's nothing else to do with them - at least until someone comes out with a cookbook.

I just wish I'd known about the contest back when I was a kid growing up in Morgan County. Now there we had some woolly bears. Big? You bet. Ornery? I remember a farmer telling me he caught one of the little monsters trying to run off with one of his chickens.

When I didn't act impressed enough, he said he had even caught a couple of the old cantankerous caterpillars trying to vote.


This wasn't even close to being believable, and finally the farmer backed down from his story, saying it looked as if they were voting, but in fact they may only have been conducting exit polls for the networks.

For a while I thought about dying Bubba's white spots brown, pruning his ears and entering him as a woolly bear this year. But when I saw woolly bear judge Frank Leiter quoted as saying he took personality into account, I abandoned the experiment.

Besides, Bubba can't keep his fool mouth shut for 20 seconds, and it would be highly embarrassing if halfway through the contest a woolly bear up and meowed.

But I did let him watch the Mummers' Parade. That is, he watched it when he wasn't hiding under the bed.

The parade was still out of earshot, and Bubba had arranged himself artfully on the dining room table. He was falling into one of those luxurious, enviable cat sleeps, where the eyes slowly give way horizontally to more and more fur until they are evidenced by nothing more than two dark slits. He put his ears on standby, turning them outward slightly. His head was still erect, but it looked as if every other bone in his body had dissolved and he drifted off, looking as comfortable and serene as a southern preacher with his wife off on holiday.

Then the band exploded to life - and with it, Bubba. His eyes bolted open and I thought his ears were going to pop straight off his head, like poison darts out of an aborigine blowgun.

Never have I seen a cat decide so instantaneously that bands were not his barrel of fish.

Bubba took up residence under the bed until certain these dangerous, instrument-wielding students were not going to come up the stairs to get him and pass him triumphantly around overhead like a one-cat mosh pit.

He reappeared after a time, tail twitching, and taking full credit for scaring away this noisy brass host. It was about this time he noticed the movement, the floats, the people, the commotion, the fire trucks - all on his street corner.

Obviously all this needed to be killed.

He sat on the sill muttering shrilly, every so often wheeling his head to look at me accusingly - all I had to do was let him out and he'd personally take care of this disturbance. He was just the cat tough enough to do it; he'd give them what fur and then we'd see who was ... but then came another band and Bubba's reborn interest in studying the southern exposure of the box springs.

I suppose if I had wanted something brave, I would have gotten a pet ferret. Or a pet woolly bear. I've never seen a woolly bear run away from anything or back down from a confrontation.

Of course that means they usually get eaten or run over by a bicycle tire. This will never happen to Bubba. He may sacrifice some pride, but he will never allow himself to be tracked down and massacred by a Washington County band student.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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