Well That Sucked.

Source: Wikipedia

In seventh and eighth grade I went to a school that was close enough to home that, while my parents or friends’ parents dropped us off in the mornings on their way to work, we could walk home. We cut through peoples’ backyards, which seems odd to me now. If I saw a handful of teenagers walking through my yard I’d ask them to leave. Or I’d think really hard about asking them to leave because teenagers make me nervous, but that’s another story.

At least we didn’t linger in anyone’s yard, and I think if anyone who lived in those places notice us they took it as part of living across the street from a school. And the advantage for us was that instead of taking a ridiculously long way around we could cut at least half an hour off the trip. And only part of it was yards. After that there were woods, and a creek.

There’s a Far Side cartoon of a bunch of medieval warriors storming a castle, but one of them is pointing at the moat and saying, “Look! Goldfish!” I’m not reproducing it here because Gary Larson has asked that people not share his cartoons online, and even if you haven’t seen it I think you get the idea. Anyway I would have been that guy. I still find creeks–any body of water, really–interesting. As a kid I could spend hours examining the flora and fauna–mostly fauna–of creeks and bring home jars of salamanders, tadpoles, crawfish, minnows, and anything else I could find. One summer I found a freshwater mussel and kept it in an aquarium for months.

One day crossing the creek I noticed small brown worms in a still spot. My friends insisted we go on–Danger Mouse was going to be on in a few minutes–but later I came back with a jar.

I know what these are, I thought. I’ve read about these. These are flatworms–planaria in the scientific parlance, those diamond-headed cross-eyed worms that could be sliced down the middle and would grow two new worms. Or you could cut them halfway and they’d grow two heads.

I’d only seen flatworms in pictures but I was still surprised by how tiny they were: half a centimeter, maybe, although they were in constant motion so it was almost impossible to get a good measurement. And their heads didn’t look right either. I tried slicing a couple with a scalpel from a dissecting kit but they slipped away from the knife or ended up in pieces that quickly died. As cool as it would have been to have a collection of tiny two-headed beasts it seemed cruel so I quit.

Finally I trapped one in a little container and got a good look at it. These weren’t flatworms. They weren’t worms at all.

They were leeches.

I returned them to the creek. After that my friends never had a problem with me stopping to look in the creek. I was happy to get home quickly. I didn’t want to miss Danger Mouse.



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  1. Ann Koplow

    One more minute with you, Chris, never sucks. It does suck to find out that Gary Larson doesn’t like his cartoons shared online, since I know leeched one of his cartoons in my blog, but he’ll never have a problem with me doing that again. As always, what I find in the moat here is really interesting.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It does suck and the internet is a very big place where it’s easy to share something without knowing that its creator doesn’t want it to be shared. Larson wrote an eloquent, thoughtful statement expressing appreciation to his fans but I understand his feelings that his cartoons are his “children” and he doesn’t want them going places beyond his control.
      Fortunately we can share Weird Al.

  2. mydangblog

    I still remember spending hours watching crawfish in the local creek, although I never tried to dissect them:-) I also adore Gary Larson–my Far Side desk calendars were one thing I NEVER threw away!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Me neither–I still have some cartoons I’ve saved, I just cut the dates off.
      Also I now regret not mentioning crawfish partly because they are cool little beasts and partly because it would be fun to start a fight over terminology: crawfish, crayfish, or crawdads.

  3. Mrs Fancy-Pants

    Well that made me feel slightly ill.

    I was on a bush walk once and was told by someone coming in the opposite direction that he’d seen a brown snake, one of the world’s most dangerous. Meh. Kept walking without fear. On another occasion I was told that some walkers ahead of me had been bitten by leeches. Walked on terrified and wanting to cry.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I can relate to that. Most crawly things don’t bother me but there’s something about leeches that give me the jibblies. Lampreys too, since they’re basically just giant leeches. And I used to be able to reassure myself that as long as I didn’t go in water I was safe until I learned that there are land leeches in rainforests.
      Land leeches. Sleep well tonight!

      1. Mrs Fancy-Pants

        I worked with a guy who would occasionally find them in his house!

  4. Arionis

    When I was young I read a novella by Steven King called The Body that had a part where kids were swimming in a creek and a leech attached itself to a “sensitive” part of the main character’s body. I’m not squeamish about bugs or critters either but after reading that, just the thought of leeches really creeped me out. As I am sure you know, that novella was adapted to the movie Stand By Me, where a young Wil Wheaton got the honor of hosting said leech. It creeped me out even more when I saw it on the big screen.

    1. Mrs Fancy-Pants

      A friend of my husband’s got one in his eye. Puke!

      1. Arionis

        and now even more creeped out!

    2. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yeah, the part of Stand By Me with the leeches creeped me out too. I didn’t see it on the big screen but the first time I saw it I was in an empty house and it was 3am. Although the leeches scene would have bothered me at any time.
      Oh yeah, I had a real-life version of that experience too, except in my case it wasn’t a leech. It was a tick.


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