Raging Gypsy Moth Caterpillar Infestation

Lend your sympathetic ear to me a moment while I tell you of the raging gypsy moth caterpillar infestation of 2017.

We thought we had it rough during the 2016 gypsy moth epidemic; but those were innocent, less pestilent, times. If I could turn back the clock knowing what I’ve learned from the caterpillar spring of ‘17, I would have doused the tall, ancient oaks that grow over our back deck in gasoline and burned them straight to the ground.

Living in Connecticut just doesn’t allow that many months in which we can take full advantage of all that comes with having a kick-ass back deck and lovely yard. May should be one of those months; yet I cannot grill my dinner. I have not enjoyed a cup of coffee at my bistro table while gazing at my garden. I will not be basking in solar lit evenings, enjoying a glass of wine with friends. Hell, I can’t even get out my back door without walking into a writhing web of black caterpillars hanging on long silk lines from the trees, the sills of my slider, the siding of my house. Those disgusting freaks are ruining things for me. “Ruining!” I shake my fist and yell up toward the lacey Swiss cheese leaves, as if they didn’t know.

piller-ed house
My house

 

When it first began there was hope. This year it’s rained a lot, they said. A fungus will grow that will kill them, they said. Jus pre-treat your trees, they said, it will only cost you $100 for the amount you need. I call shenanigans on all that.

In a defiant time, I sat on the deck anyway. It’s my deck, I thought while donning my protective hat, I’m not going to let some little caterpillars scare me away. I couldn’t eat out there because of the steady rain of caterpillar crap. But, I brought out a beverage, which I stashed under a low glass table so nothing could fall into it. I read my book and wiped the poop off the pages, pretending that the sound of caterpillars decimating the leaves overhead was something more pleasant, like wind, or very quiet waves.

If it is a dry day, the little black balls of caterpillar shit coating the deck are like slick ball bearings. I walk out in my flip flops only to have my legs go in two different directions as I slide around the wood, gracelessly windmilling my arms in the air yelling “woah, woah, woah” like a slapstick clown.  If the day is wet, the sticky caterpillar shit forms a thick, foamy layer that must be scraped from your soles like cement. The dog has it between her toes.

poop deck
poop deck

The caterpillars hang from everything, blocking my exits and boldly mocking me as I stare wistfully out the windows. I sometimes put the garden hose on the “jet” setting and blast them off the house and deck while screaming “yeeee-aaaaaah, suckas” I pretend I am spraying them with tiny bullets from my automatic ‘pillar killer. Over the weekend I recruited my children and their friends to target the buggers with their super soakers. No matter. They return, like the world’s most unwanted pizza delivery, in 30 minutes or less.

I’ve become the gypsy moth caterpillar police of the house; the equivalent of the crotchety old neighbor waiting by the window for a kid to run onto his lawn so he can yell. A few minutes ago I saw the fools breaching the sticky tree band barrier ringing the thick bark. Alone in the house, I yelled in a crazed pirate voice “they’re breaching the hold!” and suited up in muck boots, long raincoat with a tightly cinched hood, and up-to-the-elbow gloves. I applied another 13 oz. tub of petroleum jelly to the black tape. I pulled the caterpillars from the tree in handfuls and plunged them to their deaths into hot water mixed with dish soap – with pure joy. A month ago you would have found me cradling bugs to let them out of the house rather than stepping on them, or perhaps feeding a baby mouse with an eye dropper (both true stories). This caterpillar spring has changed me in ways that I never thought possible.

Even writing this, I imagine I feel them on me – in my hair, on my ankle, making way up my sleeve. I know this only psychological, but, wait, what the? Nope, not a caterpillar crawling up my leg. It’s just a tick.

 

Chipmunks, flapping

Friends: don’t you just hate when you finally pour yourself a glass of wine after a long day, sit down for a nice sip and then boom – carnage? I know I do. Recently I was forced to answer some hard questions regarding the soul of a chipmunk as well as the strength of my character and I did not like it, not one bit.

My fluffernutter of a pooch had mistaken a chipmunk for her tennis ball, or perhaps a tiny remote control vehicle (I can’t be the only one that thinks they look like little RC cars racing around with their tails sticking up like they do).  I had quite the gut reaction of swear-screaming – sweaming, if you will – and banging violently on the window until fluffbutt realized her mistake and placed the chip back on the ground.

jedi chips
How could she resist playing?  Also please watch this video because it’s awesome.

I knew I had to get to that very still rodent before one of my precious angels stumbled upon it and tried to skin it for its pelt.  But a terrible thought entered my mind: what if it was not all the way dead but merely very badly injured, seizing and foaming at the mouth? If so I would have to end its misery. With what? A shovel, the broken-off end of my wine glass, what?! I settled on bringing it to the driveway and running it over with the car if need be. Effective, yet indirect.  I am a lady who hasn’t intentionally killed any living being in probably 15 years and did not want to start.*

Well, let me tell you how simultaneously relieved and horrified I was to find that the little guy was all the way dead. I had almost brought shame upon my name with cowardice in the face of a mercy killing, AND realized that I have a dog that apparently kills innocent chipmunks. I put the body in the bin part of the poop scoop, took a step toward the woods and tossed.

That little sucker flew about three feet and then got caught up in a low, leafless branch of a bush. He was draped over the branch much like a washcloth draped over a clothesline to dry.  The chipmunk was actually flapping in the wind at me; just hanging around, blowin’ in the wind.

Because I sensibly threw him in the same direction that I throw a large amount of dog crap, I couldn’t just step into the woods in my flip flops and knock him off the branch. I was reduced to teetering on the rock wall, stretching my arm holding the scoop thingy as far as I could and trying to untangle the dangling chip from the branch while sweaming voraciously. After a full minute he fell down into a large pile of excrement, arms and legs splayed out in all directions; lifeless eyes staring directly at me.

All in all, my dog and I were both to blame. For even though she caused the death I disrespected the body and revealed one of the myriad ways my inner weakness rules me. I also blame Fisher Price for making the adorable Woodseys part of my childhood, therefore giving chipmunks a soft spot for all eternity (yes I still have the book and read it to my kids).

woodse7
Anthropomorphized for 80’s kids

 

*Ok, ok, I kill ants, flies and ticks. Ants, flies and ticks can go f*@k themselves.

Mice Rise Against

There is a Norwegian proverb that says It is better to feed one cat than many mice. I know this because I am of Norwegian blood. Their proverbs run through my veins like an icy fjord. I’ve been feeding one cat for ten years now, along with hundreds of mice. There was a point in time that I actually fed two cats, but the slow one was murdered by a mouse gang.

20150612_070608
Hi, I’m useless

Oh Sarsgaard, the mice. They live under the hoods of our cars, in the walls between the garage and house, in my compost bin, and today I discovered they’ve co-opted the teak bar on my deck.  There is a raging wind-storm going on (fun fact: wind is my most-despised weather occurrence) which caused the fold-down door on the front of the bar to open. I peered inside the bar to discover total destruction.

I store things in the shelves and cabinets during winter, things that I’ve successfully stored in there for 12 years. Those things are destroyed. Bag of wooden clothes pins: resembles Swiss cheese, clothes pins gnawed & soaked with pee.  Votive candles: wicks buried under turds. Gardening gloves: chewed, pooped on and filled with acorn shells. The whole inside was filled with miniscule Styrofoam balls, which I later realized were from the bottom of the cooler/sink combo that you can open from the top of the bar.

I used to have a Volkswagen that the mice loved. There was a fiber lining under the hood that was just perfect for them to fuck up. Once I pulled up to a gas pump and noticed that I had just run over a mouse on the concrete. It was still twitching. I’m pretty sure that sucker fell out of the front of my car when I pulled in and then I ran it over when I slow-rolled forward to the pump.  Another time I took the car to the dealer because it was having issues, caused by my air filter being crammed with acorn shells and pieces of the fiber hood lining. A mechanic looked at my car and jiggled some things. Then he drove the car into the bay and there was a 25-foot trail of acorns, which the service manager Instagrammed as a joke.

Earlier this year my husband obtained some sort of “natural” mouse repellant – because we are both suckers and hate to kill any animals, no matter how obnoxious. He, of course, overused the product (“if the can says to use 3-4 sprays, then 8-9 sprays will obviously do a better job! “) in the attached garage. I came out of the shower to the very pervasive smell of animal piss mixed with vomit wafting through my house.  As he laughed and left for the day he mentioned that the product is advertised as a beaver repellant. Well, the mice were not repelled. But I am happy to say that we have had zero beavers in our garage.

Back at the bar, I was gloved in pink rubbers that went almost to my elbow. I shoved what I could into a flapping plastic bag that was headed for the garbage. The wind whipped my hair and clothes mercilessly while Styrofoam balls rode the gusts through my nose, eyes and yard. I imagined finding a mouse somewhere in the bar and tossing it high in the air, like a kite with no string.

There is another proverb attributed to the great people of Norway: either conform to the customs or flee the country. I had this in mind many times while attempting to make the mice flee. But now I feel defeated. Maybe the message is reversed and meant for me, from the mice. The mice rise against.

My week with a pigeon

Day 1:

Evan found the most beautiful pigeon on our deck this afternoon. Pearly pinks, greens, purples all over it. I tried to get close but it casually plopped off over the edge of the deck. Later it was in the driveway under my car. Noticed blue band around foot –  Googled and learned that it’s probably a racing pigeon who got lost or tired. I am giving it water and seeds to help it regain strength.

When I told Evan it was a homing pigeon he shrieked “A whaaaaaatt?!” in terror.  “A pigeon babe, a pretty racing bird. Nothing to be scared of.” I laughed.

pretty pigeon on the porch
pigeon on the porch

Now it’s late and cold. I’ve put a towel in a milk crate tilted on its side, up against the house on the front porch. I’d hate for our resident hawk to eat the pretty thing.  I have started to call her Katie Holmes. Because homing pigeon.

I do not expect to see Katie Holmes again.

Day 2:

Katie Holmes stayed under Adam’s car this morning as he tried to drive away to work. Afraid she was going to commit suicide, I laid on the ground and yelled at her while shooing with a stick so she wouldn’t get caught under a tire. It took him fifteen minutes to back out the driveway.

Katie spent the rest of the day in the back yard narrowly escaping being eaten by the dog, hawk and whatever else is out there. I spent the day trying to get her to drink more water to rehydrate herself enough to leave. I don’t want this pretty little thing to die on my watch (this situation is bringing up bad memories of last summer’s unsuccessful baby mouse rehab). I’m not sure she can fly.

I told a friend about this today and she didn’t get the Katie Holmes reference. “Did you name her that because she’s like, trapped at your house?”  Whatever. Works either way.

Day 3:

It was snowing when I woke up. I knew I had to get Katie Holmes so I could read her leg band. She didn’t seem to be going anywhere, and the internet says that like gremlins, racing pigeons should not get wet.  I spent the day chasing the pigeon around and worrying.

When Evan got home we cornered her together in the garage. I threw a towel over her and put her in an enormous cardboard box. It was so big I used the boys’ soccer goal to cover the top. I even gave her an old stuffed snowman and some towels to snuggle in.  Did you know that pigeons grunt  when upset?

Anyway, I was able to read her leg band and look up her pigeon club – in Meriden – not that far!  I called the number listed on the site and the guy said he used to be the pigeon guy but now he’s not the pigeon guy and he texted me later with the real guy’s number. Well, the real guy and I had a mild language barrier. Maybe that’s why he got off the phone so fast when I tried to set up a rendezvous point with him or his wife?  He said he would call me back.

While I like Katie Holmes, the idea of captivating a bird in a box is starting to make me sick. Also, the mountains of poop.

It continues to snow.

pigeon in a box
pigeon in a box

Day 4:

It has been pouring rain all day. Wind gusts reached 80 mph in the night. I spent the day obsessing about the live animal trapped in the soaked, poop-filled cardboard prison in my cold garage. An animal that would be in mortal danger if put outside. An animal that has knocked it’s water over so many times that there is now a frozen brook running the length of the garage making it treacherous to bring my many empty wine bottles to the recycling bin. Right pigeon guy has not returned our insistent calls; mine or Adam’s.

Katie holmes-ing pigeon
Katie holmes-ing pigeon

Day 5:

I woke to beautiful weather. I decided to free Katie Holmes. It felt good to throw away the sopping fecal cardboard box, stuffed snowman and old towels and sweaters I’d lent Katie. I sent her on her way. Which was apparently only five feet away, under my car in the driveway.

I texted the first, wrong pigeon guy and asked what to do since the second, right pigeon guy apparently didn’t want his bird. He said he would take her, but he is moving and it will be a few days. He told me to recapture her and put her in a box in my garage.

I picked the poop-slimed stuffed snowman out of the bin.

Day 6:

I spent all day waiting and worrying and checking on the bird who is now housed in a miniscule plastic tote.  I’m starting to feel like Tom Cruise/Scientology. The bird has eaten all my rice.

She's just there, staring at me
She’s just there, staring at me

Day 7:

The plastic tote has shrunk in the night, or the bird has become massive. She is now entirely crusted with poo in the foot/claw area.  Neither pigeon guy has called.

Day 8:

Early this morning I texted the first guy and told him I’m mentally incapable of taking care of Katie Holmes and I would be calling animal control. He texted me back his address, only a few towns away. Adam and I brought her over, and he was indeed moving. We interrupted him and his friends carrying large pieces of furniture into the house to bring him an unwanted pigeon that wasn’t his. He was cool, though, and explained that he’d been the president of the pigeon racing club until recently, and he seemed to know a lot about the birds. He liked Katie and said he might keep her, or find her a good home. He conceded that maybe she didn’t belong to the second pigeon guy after all. He even seemed happy about the poop on her feet, and complimented its color and consistency.

He showed us that Katie Holmes couldn’t fly because someone had clipped her wings. Possibly because she had been recently purchased, and new owners do this to avoid the pigeon returning to its original home until the new owner can re-train it.

It didn’t hit me until we were driving away what this meant: Katie Holmes walked to our house. Her owner is one of our neighbors.