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.

 

What is a Rural Suburb? This:

I live in a rural suburb. There are a few developments in town: those are the suburbs. I live in the rural.

I live on a street where you are as likely to find stray horses as dogs.  I’ve come face-to-knee with an ox while getting my mail.

At least one guy on the street mows his lawn by goat.

In my neighborhood I hear gun shots regularly. Not crime-y gun shots; merely my neighbors hunting their endless acreage, celebrating raucously, or helping an injured farm animal along from its misery. If someone ever really does get shot around here, no one will call the cops because we’re all used to it.

I live in a place that ministers to its own. If tragedy occurs, the whole community donates, helps, gives. Even if we don’t know each other it’s what we do. I have seen it in action and it’s beautiful.

Last year a huge tree fell from our property blocking the road and our driveway while we were on vacation. Strangers cut that bitch up so we could get drive into the driveway. An electrician from town that I’d never met was up on a ladder with a headlamp at 11:00 at night checking out the wires that had been ripped from my house. These kind of people are my people.

I live in a place where we are still considered “the new family” after 11 years.

People around here have a lot of land, a lot of trees and a lot of privacy. I literally have no idea what my next door neighbor looks like.

I share my yard (and deck and garage) with a plethora of species. Once I saw a deer that had just given birth in my backyard nursing her newborn. We have a quail that spends a week here each spring, and resident rabbits, hawks and fisher cats.

I live in a town with a nasty heroin/opioid epidemic.

My neighbors across the street consist of at least 5 siblings, houses all in a row, living in land passed down through their family for generations. I don’t think any of them has a job. They are in a family feud and call the cops on each other regularly. Obviously, these are the same neighbors that shoot the guns.

You can find a million dollar home in my town. You can also find a one room shack made out of tin. Some people live in the woods at the end of my road – because they prefer it.

If I want to go to Target, a mall, a clothing store, Starbucks, or a fancy restaurant, I have to drive for a minimum of 30 minutes.

We live on the East side of the Connecticut River and every time I come into our valley, every single time I come to the four-corners where my town starts, I swear I can breathe a little easier. Everything looks prettier, seems slower. When I get a full-frontal amazing sunset every night from my kitchen window while cooking dinner, and while I have coffee on my deck looking out over the field of wildlife, I know that there’s nowhere else I’d rather live. People come to places like this to relax, or have a little vacation. It’s where I always live. And for that I am grateful.

When Spring is Very Cold

This is one of the true, yet magical, stories of my life: the first time I saw Adam I was sitting on the floor in his living room. I could see the staircase from where I was and he descended in slow motion. He was wearing khaki cargo shorts and a button down short sleeved plaid shirt, with Birkenstock sandals.  More likely they were imitations. Time stopped for a minute and I had this clear thought: here is my future. And I was right.

He asked my name and I told him, I guess, because he was saying “Eliza, Eliza” all slow and nice and it was the best pronunciation I ever heard.  We talked all night.

After the weekend, I went back to my own state. Laura called; she said “I think Adam likes you” and I said “too bad I live in CT and have a boyfriend” (to clarify: It was more like I had a disgusting scab that I would rip off, watch regrow, then rip off again). My friend said “dump him and move to NJ”, like no big deal.  I said ok, hung up the phone and ripped off that scab for the final time.  Then I moved to NJ, like no big deal.

The day after I moved, Adam came over and never left. The day after that, his dog and stuff appeared and we opened a joint bank account. We had gone on a total of three dates. I told Laura “this is crazy, but I’ll marry him.” And that girl believed me.

I was right. I did marry him; and it was all easy. Sixteen years and two kids later things aren’t always so easy. In fact they can be as dismal as this cold, rainy week. But this story is the hoodie I put on when the weather sucks. I cinch the hood tight so only my eyes stick out and step out into the rain. My wish for today is that you also have an old, worn garment to keep you warm. And may you never leave it in a cab or forget it in the back of the closet.

Stay Gold, Ponyboy

Most people probably look back on junior high with mixed emotions. There were a lot of ups and downs. I looked like a train wreck, scrawny and pale as a wet noodle with terrible hair, and wearing the same sweater over and over because it was the only one I owned that I liked, with high-waters and the Kmart brand of Eastlands. Despite this, I had a great group of girlfriends that were funny and smart and actually liked me (shout-out to Lee, Laura, Marty, Nik & the twins!).In particular, I remember seventh grade as a stand-out year. It was the last year that I still felt truly like a kid.  I liked boys, but in more conceptual sense than eighth grade. My friends and I had finally mastered the one-curl bang and the lunch-time Poison VS Def Leppard wars were in full effect.

One of the biggest reasons I so happily remember my seventh grade year was English class. Mrs. Paradis was fun and engaging; her classroom was like an adventure to me. I had been an avid reader since before I even got into school, but seventh grade was the year that my love affair with literature caught fire. Unlike the Babysitter’s Club series, these books were a kind of universal language. Adults in my life had read them and cared to talk with me about them.  We “knew” the same characters. “Stay gold, Ponyboy”, I would say with a somber nod to anyone who would listen.  Man, I was cool.

The standouts that year were The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, and Animal Farm by George Orwell. I know there were many more, but 25 (ish) years later these are the three that I remember igniting in me a particular passion. I wanted to put away the safe “kiddie” novels I was reading and start asking larger questions. I realized that writing doesn’t have to be taken at face value; story can be a shell for something deeper. I loved this idea, it was like finding a treasure that was really a puzzle that you didn’t even know existed. I enjoyed thinking in layers. In retrospect, the books in the seventh grade curriculum at CMS (go maroon & gold!) were probably chosen for this very reason.  I now raise my wine glass to the powers that be that chose those books for my class to read.  Your curriculum worked for this book nerd.

This was my first introduction into “adult” reading. While my religious friends were taking their Confirmations and Bar Mitzvahs, I had my own little threshold-crossing from kid books to literature. Now reading was for more than fun, yet I still reading because it was fun.  This was as close as I ever would get to any ceremony to mark my growing up in the eyes of society. And no one but me knew about it! But things were different from then on. Side note: I went crazy that summer reading Stephen King novels – only outside lying on the hammock, in broad daylight for safety. I devoured The Stand, The Shining, Thinner and anything else my stepfather had on the shelf.

Now as an adult I revisit childhood books, having recently read The Little Prince and Lord of the Flies I can highly recommend going backward and doing this at some point in your life.

Possible 7th grade reading list patched together from a shady memory and the internet:

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

Animal Farm, George Orwell

A Midsummer Nights Dream, William Shakespeare

Lord of the Flies (I feel like this was more likely 5th grade for us), William Golding

Of Mice and Men, George Steinbeck

The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane

The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells

Where the Red Fern Grows (again, I feel like this was read earlier), Wilson Rawls

staygold

 

Book club with my 8 year old

One of the things I imagined for myself as a parent was having in-depth philosophical conversations about books with my children. Then, I actually had children.

I did everything “right”: I started reading to them immediately, every day, explaining how new worlds open up when you can read, how you’ll never be bored if you have a book (all the while thinking ‘shut up! You sound like your mother!’). I even read to them while I was still pregnant, just in case.

My youngest cannot yet read, and he seems to not even care about learning his letters. TBD I suppose. But my oldest – my oldest has actively hated the books I’ve tried to share with him from my childhood.  He suffered through Charlotte’s Web recently, turning away from me and staring at the wall while I read chapters to him at night as if trying to retreat to a happy place in his head in which he could not hear my voice.

He is in third grade, so I know he’s not old enough to have formed lifelong habits (or non-habits as is the case with reading).  But I was irrationally sad when I received a notification on a test at his school that surmised he was reading at only a first grade level. I’m no teacher, but even I thought this seemed wrong. When I spoke to his teacher about it she informed me that the reason he scored so low was because he completed his test in less than three minutes – it was supposed to take 20 – because he didn’t want to “waste his time” reading.  This was very much like him poking me in the eye with a sharp stick.

Recently, though, something changed. I am thanking the book The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate for this.  E has 20 minutes of daily reading required by his teacher.  He went from setting a timer for exactly 20 minutes and staring it down the whole time, to voluntarily reading for 40-60 minutes without a timer.  The first time he did it he said it was easy because the book had “sucked him in.”  My heart grew three sizes that day.  And then, when he finished the book, my heart actually exploded when he casually said “Mom, you should read this book.”  Here it was, our first shared book.  I got so excited I read the book as fast as humanly possible so I could have a conversation with him about it.  Here is how this conversation just went down:

Me: “E, I just finished that book you recommended.”

E: “Did you like it?”

Me: “I loved it” (here I paused to wipe away a tear)  “but it was so sad. Also it was beautiful. I had so many feelings about it.  What did you think?”

E:

Me: “E, what did you think?”

E: *walking away* “Good, uh huh, good…”

For now, it’s enough.

What is a synesthete?

Synesthesia: a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report a lifelong history of such experiences are known as synesthetes. (thanks, Wikipedia!)

I call myself a silent synesthete because I don’t talk about it. Most people in my life do not know I have this extra sensory experience happening within me.

I never even knew this was a thing until I was 21. At that time I was describing to a friend of mine how when I think of numbers or letters I see them in certain colors; how when I think about the days of the week or the months of the year I visualize them on a mobius strip in a designated color; how when I talk I see the words scrolling in the very front of my brain. He surprised me by saying that he did not have this experience at all, nor did he believe that most people would think this was typical.  I remember shrugging it off, mildly intrigued at how differently people think.  My friend was weirded out and did some research on his own. A few days later he informed me that I was a synesthete.

Some people have incredible synethesia super powers like being able to see music or smell shapes. I did see music once at a Phish concert, but I’m sure it was the mushrooms I ate.  I have the most pedestrian form of synesthesia, and I’m happy with that.

I remember trying to color the alphabet to show my mom what I could “see” for each letter as a child. This never worked. In my mind the colors are clear, but if I try to put them down on paper I am never truly able to discern the exact color I need. The color is more a feeling of a color rather than a concrete representation. If I concentrate too hard the image fades. It’s like trying to chase then physically grasp an idea with my hands.

I wish I could say that this makes me special. I think instead that it is illustrative of how everything in life – and inside my mind – is connected and jumbled up in a crazy heap of colors, sounds and complicated visions. So, welcome to my blog. Which I’m assuming will also be a crazy beautiful mess (mostly in shades of red and blue).