“Your silent tents of green we deck with fragrant flowers. Yours has the suffering been. The memory shall be ours (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
As Memorial Day nears, this year’s Summer plague has given neither warning nor sign. For eleven such seasons, I have made the hinterlands of outer Raleighwood my home, comfortably living with Jon in this ancient barn, surrounded by even older pine woods. Each June, however, we are besieged by freakish swarms of unlikely invaders. While my Catholic schoolboy days are long forgotten, those Old Testament verses yet linger and caption well these modern menaces of such Biblical proportion.
I came to Marklewood in the spring of 2002, unaware of what would become the bane of the dog days: green tree frogs. I had never lived out in the country before and knew not what to expect, assuming such creatures perhaps simply defied gravity with their vertical leaps. By late June, though, I was well familiar with both their song and the harmony they create with the seemingly more discriminating cricket. Each night at dusk, the air was filled with amphibian chirps, drowning the playful meows and Jon’s and my attempts at conversation on the swing. Alas, by September, their numbers indeed dwindled, along with my annoyance. That is, until I brought my hanging baskets of “string-of-pearls” and “Wandering Jew” inside for the colder nights ahead. About a week later, stowaway tree frogs frolicked in the sun-room and throughout the house, wreaking havoc among the vigilant indoor pusses. Chaos ensued, resulting in toppled and broken porcelains … and unresolved stress and regret.
The following year, once Memorial Day came around, I thought ahead to a dry September: “I shall scrutinize any house plants before returning them to the indoors!” Naturally, the joke was on me. The frogs never seemed so galvanized in force that summer. Instead, we had the dreaded and surprisingly persistent inch worms. They’d turn up in unusual crannies in the garden: on the seats of wrought iron benches, on the handles of trash receptacles, and strategically surrounding ash trays. However, it was the ones that dared to venture inside the house that were the most adept at “goat-getting”!
Those slowly slithering critters came in through the spigots, after what must’ve been an arduous journey from the outdoor pipes and well. The kitchen sink, of course, was the obvious port of entry. However, they’d often emerge from the bathroom faucets, both sink and tub, including those on the second floor. For what seemed like an eternity but, in fact, was two months, I’d each day constantly run hot water from all spigotry. I hoped to make the pipes impassable and, at the very least, grossly uncomfortable. I not once remembered the lyrics to any silly and applicable children’s song. And then the cooling winds of Autumn came and they were gone. I brought my baskets inside after careful inspection and found no sign of tree frogs traveling “incognito”.
The summer of 2004 was wet and rainy and relatively quiet. They tree frogs were timid in their numbers and the inch worms must have found it bearable to remain outdoors. Unfortunately, the horrors ahead were worse than I could have ever imagined. Slugs were everywhere. Their destruction in gardens is legendary and our experience proved no exception. Worse, however, was the phenomenon I had never noticed until one cool evening in late June.
I was sitting on the front stoop, listening to tunes on my ipod and enjoying a smoke. A new litter of kittens was making merry at my feet, and I stretched my arms wide and up, brushing my hands against the side of the house. I felt a cool, moist gelatinous substance and turned. And screamed. Literally, hundreds of tiny slugs were scaling the house. I ran inside, surely yelling at Jon in some incomprehensible panic, rushing to scrub my tainted hands. Let’s just say that we had that very slug issue all summer long. One never gets used to it, although I referred to the yucky sight as the “attack of the zombie slugs” since they moved in that Romero pace of cinematic notoriety.
Over the last decade, the extent of such plagues have run the gamut from the obvious to the absurd. There have been cicadas, June bugs, flying roaches, and certainly creatures that are undetectable by human eye. I have learned to accept such bothersome storms of the Animal Kingdom’s smaller subjects. I temper my courage with humor.
The greatest test was two years ago. It was the year of the Lady Bug, thousands of them … everywhere. Wait! It was more aptly: tens of thousands of them. And I am quoting in purposely conservative estimates. I would open my car door, only to have swarms of them seek refuge in the taupe leather of the upholstery. I would sit in the garden swing and they would fly behind my spectacles. They would often cover the entire North side of the house. Those of you who are mustering sweet childhood memories, believe me. Such insects never heed nursery rhyme wisdom nor do they “fly away home!”
This year, however, I am prepared. I have my sprays, my brooms, and an extra long garden hose. But I have no idea what to expect. At some point, though, I shall certainly reminisce of Sr Edward Patricia’s Old Testament class. I could’ve sworn I paid better attention back then.
(Image: “Phare” by Denis Dubois, 2013.)