Look closely.  Focus your eyes until you see the green that isn’t part of the pepper plant.  Do you see him?  Then sit back and listen, and I’ll tell you his story.

Last year, just before Christmas, I was working at my seasonal job making wreaths at a local Christmas tree farm.  It’s wonderful work; because we take the branches pruned from the evergreens, and by cutting and trimming and assembling them, we create beautiful wreaths that light up the eyes of our customers and add a touch of natural beauty to their homes for the holiday season.  Many days, our assembly-line work is fairly unremarkable; but every now and then we find a surprise among the truckload of pruned branches — a bird’s nest, a cluster of tiny pine cones, and this year an ootheca filled with praying mantis eggs.

We set the branch aside on the workbench in the cold barn, and there it stayed until our seasonal work was done.  I’ve always wished that I had mantises in my garden to do some natural bug control for me;  so I grabbed the branch, took it home, and wove it into the fence surrounding my garden.  There it hung, all winter long, the only non-white piece of nature in a snow-covered garden patch.

Winter howled and blew and froze the earth, but finally it gave way to Spring.

Still, the egg case hung in the fence — now above the thawing ground and bathed in the sunlight of early Spring.  I waited and watched, knowing that the mantis eggs would need at least two weeks of 70-degree weather to encourage them to hatch.  It seemed as though Jack Frost had no desire to see my garden helpers emerge, and every morning we would awaken to frost-covered grass and the reminder that Spring had not yet arrived in all its glory.

What had arrived were the birds — hungry birds — and I began to see them eying the ootheca and dreaming of how wonderful it would taste.  No self-respecting mantis would ever lay her eggs exposed to predators.  This egg case had been hidden carefully, deep inside the branches of a Douglas Fir.  Now it hung, vulnerable and in full view at a time of year when food is less than abundant.  Certain that there would soon be no eggs left to hatch, I began some research on hatching them.  One commercial site where oothecas are sold recommended enclosing them in a protective covering and suspending them three feet above the ground so that they would be safe from ants as well.  It may not have been the most beautiful solution, but I took a brown paper lunch bag, made holes in it that were small enough for the newly hatched mantises to escape, and hung it from the lower branches of the pear tree that stood beside the garden.

One day, when I stopped to check on the bag, I discovered a small, brown mantis crawling on the outside of the bag.

They had hatched, and I hadn’t even noticed!  It was the first week of June, and the peas were growing tall along the back side of the garden, so I cut down the bag and laid it gently among the leaves.

A week or two later, I removed the bag and got on with my summer of gardening.  Six weeks passed, and I never saw a mantis.  I was beginning to think that the birds had eaten them after all and that my experiment in bringing praying mantises to my garden had failed.  It is hard to describe the joy I felt when I found my pepper-green friend standing guard on the spiciest plant in the garden.  And I noticed that not one leaf had been disturbed by a hungry insect.

Just had to let you see him one more time!  Thank you, Mr. Mantis, for praying in my garden.