At least there's no bugs! Right?
It's -2 again here in Wisconsin, Boston has been snowed right off the map, and April is still really far away. But you know what? Literally nothing has bit me in months. How great is that?
Just in case you're having trouble seeing the snow cloud silver lining, here's something I wrote for Volume One a few years ago. The house I live in now does not feature these hellish demon bugs, but there's another timely connection in here - I discuss city ordinances pertinent to nature, and Eau Claire just allowed backyard beekeeping. Go nature!
Unfortunately, it seems I have arrived at the time in my life when I must get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.
It’s not so bad, really – I experience a small amount of voyeuristic glee in witnessing which of the neighbors’ lights are still on at 3 AM, and the innocent joy of returning to my warm comforter after a chilly trip downstairs is quite pleasant.
But then spring hit, and our bugs started to return.
We live in a charming little 1950’s home on the East Hill, and amongst the various crap lodes that the previous owner left for us, we inherited an infestation of a creature called scutigera coleoptrata, or house centipedes.
If you are not currently wincing in disgust because you are familiar with this gaggingly terrifying little nugget of natural wonder, please, please google “house centipede” right now.
See what I mean?
Now imagine all those legs on the back of your neck
Now imagine it’s 3:17 AM, you are standing (or sitting) in the bathroom, and one of these little bastards comes tearing out from under the bath mat at about 70 miles per hour. I normally dodge backwards, hitting the door and slamming it into the wall. Next I clamor for a tissue or some toilet paper with which to dispatch the fellow. Then I’m plunged into a vortex of middle-school phy-ed class shame as I repeatedly jab at the thing, but, being completely incapable of “leading” it, miss numerous times.
When I finally succeed, I squash the hell out of it, but before I toss the paper wad and corpse into the toilet, I always have to look. Usually its legs are still twitching. Then, as the adrenaline wears off over the next few hours, I lay in bed, unblinking, until I cry myself to sleep.
My first instinct was to declare total war on these insects, and I solicited friends and the mighty internet for help. At that point, the plan was a mix of glue traps and flamethrowers. But, one of my amigos explained to me while we were comparing house centipede stories that these things actually hunt and eat other bugs.
Apparently, they’re not after my family at all.
Apparently, the one time that a particular monstrous one got a hold of handgun, it wasn’t shooting at me. It was shooting at some spiders behind me. So now I’m stuck. Do I let the really big gross bugs live because they help control the more numerous yet smaller gross bugs? We do get quite a few spiders around our house, little cream-colored things with bulbous rear ends. And one summer we did experience plague-level black flies in our basement, big slimy ones with red eyes and skull earrings. How many spiders in corners of the ceiling equals the ickiness of one giant centipede? I assume there is some formula for this that I learned in high school biology but have since forgotten.
I am not sharing our dark little insect secret to ensure that you never, ever come over to visit.
Thinking about my little arthropod houseguests has been an important reminder for me about welcoming the “natural” back into our lives. No doubt, a lot of people nationally and in this area are trying to add more nature to their communities, but it’s rarely that happy, clean nature we associate with trees in the median of the redone Hastings Way. Nature is gritty, stinky, and has lots of legs. For example, I’ve been pretty anti-backyard chickens since the debate began on that issue around here. But, when you think about it, for all the good things they can provide (eggs, nuggets, whatever), a little smell and some clucking may not be so bad.
It’s, well, natural.
It’s the same with my resistance to expanding our garden and my insistence on regular lawn fertilizing. I like green space, and trees, and plants, like I think a lot of us upper-midwesterners do. But if we are going to get serious about this green living sustainable gobbly-gook, it’s not always going to happen in clean, symmetrical, pleasantly-scented rows. Sometimes we are going to have to look the other way as the giant house centipedes steal some Oreos and slink back down to the basement.
This outlook may be put to the test fairly soon.
Whether we are discussing backyard chickens, the impending death of a huge portion of our local trees at the mandibles of the Emerald Ash Borer (seriously, what is it with these bugs?!?), larger swaths of community agriculture, or increased parkland, I believe we have to be open minded, even if the proposal doesn’t jive with our watered-down, wussified version of “nature.” As applied to my centipedes, I guess this means I give them a free pass, at least until there’s lots of spiders because they’ve stopped doing their jobs, or one comes anywhere near my foot.
Then it’s time for a squishing’.