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.
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.
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.