Max Und Moritz

How often one must read or hear

Of children, who should be so dear,

But are as naughty as can be

And practice darkest devilry.

 

Like most kids, I was raised on a diet of popular, perennial children’s books, like: “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and “The Giving Tree.”

But my grandmother also introduced me to Max and Moritz: two cartoonishly unattractive and unrepentant boys, who terrorize their community with cruel, malicious tricks.

Originally published in Germany, in 1865, “Max and Moritz, A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks,” occupied my grandmother’s bookshelf, and she frequently translated the tale — told in rhymed couplets — while I listened enraptured, and scrutinized each illustration.

The story was a welcomed diversion from typical books, laden with lessons and awash in sweet, furry animals and light-hearted fun.

These boys were rotten to the core. They strangled the neighbor’s chickens, in gruesome style.

They sawed through a bridge, nearly drowning the town’s tailor.

And they packed their teacher’s pipe with gunpowder, causing an explosion that disfigures his face and burns off his hair.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy bedtime reading…

But I never tired of this narrative.

Considering children’s literature that is banned or criticized — (Shel Silverstein’s whimsical poems have been banned for promoting disobedience) — it’s unlikely that school libraries will ever stock Max and Moritz.

Fortunately, my kids have not been deprived. While I’m unable to translate German, I recently stumbled on a tattered, paperback English version of the tale.

I read it over dinner. The kids barely touched their food, opting to peer at the pictures of two gleeful boys, wreaking havoc and celebrating the suffering of others… just as I had followed my grandmother’s book, so many years ago.

I was happy to share another childhood memory — a story, which actually, has a happy ending.

The villagers get their comeuppance.

Max and Moritz choreograph 7 pranks… but the final one does them in.

When they slash open a farmer’s sack of corn, he catches them in the act. And he bags them, and hauls them to the local mill. There, they are ground into bits.

From an adult’s perspective, I see the lesson instilled — from the relieved villagers, who express no remorse:

“None but self to blame, mischief is not life’s true aim.”

And, although the chickens are victims of Max and Moritz’s first trick, ultimately, the poultry persevere.

The ducks — who live at the mill — are fat and happy.

They devour all that remains of Max Und Moritz.

The tent people

It’s 11 pm and everyone’s tucked in. The horses are in the barn. The cats are in the loft. And the kids and dog are in their tent.

Yes, the squatters are back: in a tent, in the yard.

They did this last summer, but I don’t know what prompted an encampment now. One day, I was out running errands and when I returned, the tent had popped up like a mushroom.

That was more than 2 weeks ago. Since then, the kids have slept out virtually every night. And they refuse to surrender their new abode.

In fact, when they’re home from school, they make a beeline for their tent.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s kind of nice. When the weather’s decent, they only come inside to eat and change clothes. (There’s an outdoor shower).

But the tent shouldn’t be a permanent fixture, I explained. Okay, they replied, as they disappeared inside and zipped up the door.

Last Thursday night — about 10 days in — I saw an opportunity for eviction: 100% chance of rain, and high winds. Finally, Martin and I had some leverage.

But the kids slept out there anyway. (I did check the radar, which called for heavy rain but no violent storms.)

Still, I didn’t sleep well; I worried about them.

Weather weary, but still standing

I walked outside at 6:30 am. It was still raining. The tent was pretty wind battered. Overnight, water perked up through the ground and rain blew in, soaking their pillows. They’d all piled together on the driest portion of the mattress, like shipwrecked survivors on a raft at sea.

Awake, barely

Cayden sleeps like the dead, but the girls had a restless night. (So did Maisie, based on her expression.)

“I was totally freaked out,” Brynn told me. “I thought the tent was going to blow away!”

What did you do? I asked.

She shrugged. “I went back to sleep. I pretended the wind was the crowd, and the raindrops on the tent were hits.”

Brynn lulled herself to sleep with an imaginary baseball game.

This week, the cold posed a bigger challenge, with a hard frost a couple of nights. I tried to rub it in, asking Cayden, “Hey, will you make me a fire before you go out to your tent?”

But that didn’t smoke them out either. They just commandeered more blankets.

What’s next? I’m hoping for a heatwave. Oppressive humidity and soaring temperatures might do the trick.

Then, I’m breaking down that tent and stashing it from sight.

The forgotten caterpillars

Way back in October, I posted a Name these Insects query. And nobody responded.

Actually, 2 people responded — including Mark — who identified the second entry, which was eastern black swallowtail.

Here it is once again.

But not a peep about the other one.

Where were the rest of my entomology geeks?

No one cares about the insects. But I do. I care about insects.

Except the stinkbugs.

They can die.

And I don’t like carpenter bees, because there too many of them. And one crawled into the mailbox and stung me.

Anyway, back to the mystery ‘pillar.

Help! Who am I? Or what am I?

Last chance…

Give up?

The above creature is a “silver spotted skipper caterpillar.”

According to my Deep Throat entomology source, spotted skipper butterflies are common but, “for some reason, we don’t see many of the caterpillars.”

The creepy eyespots are intended to encourage a predator to think twice — and consider that a tasty morsel might bite back.

Oh, and here’s a fun fact: According to Univ of Fla’s entomology webpage, when disturbed, the larvae (the caterpillars) regurgitate a greenish, bitter-tasting, defensive chemical.

So leave these guys alone. Or if you must pester one, keep your mouth shut.

Here’s the finished product: