Column | Rotkat – NRC

A dead blackbird lay in the middle of the sidewalk. One wing spread, not a trace of blood. “Rotkat,” I said, just a little too loudly. A neighbor woman cycling by looked startled. Be careful, I realized. Within a radius of 500 meters around my house, everyone is a cat lover. You don’t want to argue with hardcore cat fans.

Getting closer, the dead blackbird turned out to be a glove. The metamorphosis happened so quickly that I still felt pity for the poor thing. There I stood with my compassion, by a fake leather bird corpse. I remembered a visit to the Fairytale Forest in Valkenburg, three decades earlier, when no gondolas fell from the sky. There was a wolf at the entrance and my throat was so strong that I remained scared, even once I realized it was a jigsawn piece of wood.

“Nothing is what it seems,” a friend once reassured me when I suspected he was messing around with someone else. Nonsense of course, often things are exactly what they seem, something that became clear when he moved in with her less than two months later. But sometimes our view is so colored – by fear, love, prejudice – that we only see what we want to see.

I impaled the glove on a branch and cycled to the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen. ‘Do you enjoy this view too?’ was written in large letters at the entrance. ‘This thriving oasis must disappear from the Province of North Holland.’ There was no dune scrub behind the sign, but horticultural land. In recent months, hyacinths and tulips had suffice, and thousands of people had signed the petition online to preserve the agricultural landscape. Not a word about nitrogen emissions or agricultural poisons. Now all that remained was a savage, empty field. The sign had suddenly changed from farmer’s protest to a mocking slogan.

Another metamorphosis took place in the dunes. Two boys, about eight years old, were squatting next to a nettle. Pupating ladybugs sat on the leaves. They exchanged their alien-like larval body for an adult body, the fresh scutes orange instead of red. “Super cool, madam!” said one of the boys. “Just like the Transformers.”

Encouraged by their enthusiasm, I showed the photo I had taken shortly before, also in the dunes. On a swampy bank, for the first time in my life, I had seen a cricket: the most otherworldly insect imaginable, with cricket-like wings, armored head and large digging claws. An eight centimeter long nightmare for any entomophobe. A living work of art for enthusiasts. “Awful,” said the boys in unison. On the bike home I wondered whether I had fueled their fledgling love of nature with this or had suffocated it for good.

Late at night I was awakened by a whimper in heat. I grabbed the glass of water from my nightstand and opened my window. “Rotkat,” I hissed, but it turned out to be a screaming baby.

Gemma Venhuizen is a biology editor and writes a column here every Wednesday.