Monday, January 1, 2007

Why Do Bugs Bug Me?

[This was written last summer and didn’t get posted. You have to love a Procrastinator!]

This is a question I’ve often asked myself and can’t quite seem to figure out. After all, bugs do have a function on our planet, although I can’t remember what it is right now. What I do know is that there are too many bugs and they always seem to want to fly by me, land on me, or otherwise send me into a fit.

I have loved National Geographic magazine since I was very young, but when insects were featured it used to creep me out so much that the close-up pictures of them gave me the willies. I remember I was so afraid that I would carefully turn the pages with the tips of my fingers in order to avoid touching the photographs. And forget watching nature specials on television about insects. I can’t bear to watch and will close my eyes, leave the room, or change the channel to avoid it. To top it off, I couldn’t begin to name the times I’ve had close encounters with our six-legged, and sometimes eight-legged, friends. It’s like they love me and I can’t figure out why.

Just as the summer before, I remain true to my title of The Exterminator. But this summer is different in that we’ve had so many more bugs crawling and flying around. First it was the ants. My kitchen had been teeming with them. They said the dry hot weather was ant heaven, and I have to agree. I bought ant traps and was vigilant about keeping food properly stored and the counters wiped clean. This worked well, but if I forgot to sweep up one crumb, the ants were back. Then it was houseflies. For some reason, for a period of about one week, my house was filled with flies. Flies are a nuisance, but I had a swatter handy, and got rid of them. When August rolled in, it was the spiders, busily spinning webs in every corner. I swept them away with the broom and sucked them up in the vacuum. Then it was yellow jackets. I kept finding them inside the house, and instead of running away like Chicken Little, I bravely stepped up and squashed them all.

Being squeamish of bugs doesn’t help when you have to do yard work. I have in my front yard what your average gardener would call a “flower bed,” but I call it a Fiasco. It has never looked good since I’ve lived in the house. It had four bushes growing in the middle, and with some coaxing (nagging) my husband finally pulled them out. I insisted that I wanted to put in a flower garden instead. The bushes have been removed for almost two months, but with the scalding weather I had put off making any improvements. One evening I decided that the weather had changed enough for me to get to work, so I went out to begin raking and clearing, hacking and pulling.

I was all primed to get to work. I had on my garden gloves. I had the rake, the hoe, the yard waste bag, the hand-prunner, and the hatchet. The first thing I noticed was how many gigantic spiders had spun webs in the shoots of the day lilies. I paused. I squirmed. I thought about postponing my task. An idea popped into my head. I destroyed their homes with the rake. That wasn’t so bad. Then the black flies and mosquitoes decided to attack me as I worked. Perhaps it was retaliation for the spiders, I don’t know. I had to stop what I was doing and go fetch the bug juice, which I sprayed on myself liberally. Then it was back to work, but some creature began rustling through the undergrowth and I stopped again. I had already seen a grasshopper the size of a jumbo jet and had successfully skirted away from it, but whatever this new creature was, it was much bigger. I waited and realized it was a little frog hopping along. I like frogs and toads, and this one sure was cute. I trapped it under my glove and carried it away to show the kids, and they were intrigued – all kids like amphibians of the hopping variety. I gave this one to my son – my daughter was afraid to touch it – and told him to put it down in the grass and out of danger. (I’d feel pretty badly if the frog were to get speared by the rake or flattened under my foot.) Back to work again. Something else was moving in the tangle. It was a mouse skittering through the day lilies. He was cute too, but very difficult to catch. I tried to show the kids by stirring up the plants, but the mouse got away. Natural distractions over, I went back to it and raked out what remained of the dead plants.

Things were going pretty smoothly at this point. I had all the dead growth in piles and took breaks to stuff it into the yard waste bag as I worked. While clearing the area I noticed that good old Creeping Charlie had come to life again. Creeping Charlie is the nickname I’d given to some type of climbing bush that the previous homeowners had planted at the base of the chimney on the south side of the house. I believe that the original intention of planting this bush was so that it could artistically climb up the bricks, giving the whole place a cottage feel. I’ll have to say that this plant has never climbed up anyplace. It has only shot out slithering tentacles around the base of the house which wrap themselves with morbid intent around all of the other shrubs in its path, as well as the front flower boxes, any cracks in the brick and cement window ledges, or openings in the wood trims. Every year my elderly neighbor has helped me by hacking Charlie off at the source and after doing so each time, stating with confidence that he had killed that horrible plant for good. To no avail, set aside burning the plant alive, Charlie returns each spring with a vengeance. This summer he had sent a long tentacle out which had slithered along the front of the house, hidden by the day lilies, and over to the front porch. He had deftly wrapped a death-grip arm around the climbing rose bush, up into and along the trellis, and up into a gap at the edge of the front porch roof. The result was a tangled mass at the top of the trellis. Some sparrows had made a nest inside of it but they were long gone now.

As I surveyed the damage perhaps I should have pondered why the sparrows had moved out, but I didn’t. I walked over and started cutting Charlie’s feelers, pulling them out of the rose bush and trellis. My husband appeared, having finished cutting the grass in the back yard, asking if I needed some help. We both proceeded to hack away at Charlie, even employing a hatchet to chop through the vine and pull it out of the ground where it snaked along. By then, it was getting later in the day. The kids were running up and down the driveway, playing with the neighbors. Their older brother was out doing yard work too. My aforementioned neighbor was sitting on his front stoop reading the paper. He called over that we were doing a fine job (anything we do to our yard in his opinion is a fine job because it couldn’t look any worse than it already does!) and that he was going to watch our progress.

I have to say, despite the work, it was a fine late-summer evening. I felt good that we were wrapping up another yard project, just as soon as we tackled the bush-like tangle of vines swaying on the trellis top, and was daydreaming about what I was going to plant in the flower bed in the spring. As I dreamed and looked on my husband walked over to the trellis, rake in hand, and stabbed it into the bush. As he started pulling it down I noticed some black things popping out of it. I took a step closer, “What is that…” trailed from my mouth followed by a shriek of “B-B-B-Bees!” Hubby dropped the rake and we both sprinted fifteen feet (a world record) in 1/10 of a second as the yellow jackets flew in confusion from their nest. My neighbor, who had been joined by his wife, was now laughing. “You should have seen you go!” Yeah, easy for him to say, sitting in relative safety on his front porch. Who needs to park himself in front of the television on a balmy summer evening when he has a pair of gardening-impaired idiots for neighbors that he can watch instead?

We hastily and cautiously gathered up the garden tools and made for the back yard. Now what to do? By some strange twist of fate, I was out of wasp-killing spray and could do nothing until the next day. I did take the time to look on the internet and discovered that yellow jackets will take over old birds’ nests and build their own nests, hence the reason why the sparrows hadn’t returned this summer. If I had only known or suspected this in the first place! Thankfully nothing bad had come of shaking that yellow jacket nest! I went out and bought a can of poison, the kind that shoots out a death-stream from fifty feet away, zapped the yellow jackets into oblivion, and a few evenings later and finally finished the Cleaning-up of the Flower Bed Project. No thanks to all the bugs!

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