or Virtue: Its Own Reward
No one ever regrets being virtuous in a folk tale. Well, almost no one—a few stories do harp on ingratitude (and denial)—but in general compassion, generosity, hard work, and cleverness of the right sort are amply repaid, often with half a kingdom thrown in for a bonus.
As a child I loved the stories where the heroine was sent on a perilous journey toward what threatened to be an evil end. On the way she'd feed hungry animals, comfort the unhappy, and generally mend what needed mending, and when she was most in need, all the creatures she had helped would come to her rescue. When I first encountered these stories I went through a phase of releasing flies from webs and then waiting for magic to happen. (It never did, so I grew out of that phase pretty quickly.)
Perhaps flies were the wrong targets for my self-serving efforts. Crows might have been better, as they seem to remember the faces of those have done bad (and possibly good) deeds to them. Dogs, too, understand fair play. On purely anecdotal evidence, I'd say that wasps have a good sense of cause and effect—when the bug bath is empty they hover in front of me in worrying ways; when I've refilled it with water they leave me alone. (That good deed, at any rate, has its reward—once the wasps show up, at least half my problems with pests are over; watching a wasp carry off a Japanese beetle grub certainly makes my day.) This year, the wasps have begun perching on my knee now and then; it's unnerving to have it made clear just how harmless they find me. (Also for more obvious reasons.)
The other was a cabbage moth, lying stunned after one of our worst wind storms. It moved its antennae feebly as I leaned in for the photograph; I suspect that it was too exhausted and battered to do more.
Both of these insects are pests, and if I were a sensible gardener instead of a nature-loving tree-hugger with misdirected sympathies, I would have dispatched them both then and there. Instead, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I wasn't looking for a reward out of it—not clouds of cabbage moths fluttering in halos around my head or anything. It just didn't seem right is all.
And it's a good thing I wasn't looking for a reward, because do you think these little insects are going to be grateful? Will the planthopper suck the juices only out of other people's plants, imparting nasty viruses elsewhere, while leaving mine alone? Will the cabbage moth teach its larvae to stay out of my arugula? Of course not. This is not the "winning half a kingdom" kind of situation but the ingratitude-and-denial kind. Nature does not have a code of honor; it does not step back and refuse to take advantage of a helpless state. It is about survival, not chivalry. The planthopper and cabbage moth will act according to their natures, and that will be that. If I were in a folk tale, a wise toad would come along some day long hence as I was looking at my dying tomatoes, stricken with curly top virus, or at the arugula skeletons, and say, "What did you think would happen?"
Well, really, I thought I'd get a couple of photos and a blog post out of it and deal with the damage later...