I don’t like to think of myself as a killer, but on occasion, I hunt and slaughter as efficiently as I can. However, this post isn’t about my prowess in carnage, but rather about what goes on in my head if someone else finds out about it.
Mostly I’m non-violent. I try to eat vegetarian food and take spiders outside to give them a chance to live without cob-webbing my house. But my pacifist approach to life disappears in the case of two critters that disturb my tranquility. Slugs and Boxelder bugs. Neither is large, and I could ignore both without threatening my physical health. But my sanity doesn’t allow me to be so gracious.
The slugs assault my well-being when they mess with my flowers. Our steep front yard doesn’t have grass, and it has become my canvas for planning waves of color from perennials that begin to poke up early in the spring. Patches of violas with accents from tulips and daffodils begins the annual display that continues until small sunflowers fade into winter.
I love planning the swatches of flowers, and I don’t like seeing them eaten to the ground before they bloom.
Really, I hate that. So I go after the slugs. It took me a while not to gag while doing it, but now I just slice them in half with a hand spade because I think it is more humane than passively spreading bait that causes the slimy creatures to die a slow death just because they need to move around.
Years ago, as I was out dispatching any slug I could find, neighbor children wandered up the street to see me and asked,
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to keep the slugs from eating the new viola’s that are coming up. I think slugs would eat up my whole yard if I’d let them.”
“How are you stopping them? Our Mom uses stuff to kill them.”
“Oh, I worry that the birds that visit my feeders will eat slug bait or that it will end up in down in the wetlands below. I use the bait a bit, but mostly I just look for damage on the plants and then try to find what is eating them. Then I give it a quick death by cutting it in half.”
Then came a question that I wasn’t prepared to hear.
“That seems like fun. Can we help?”
I didn’t intend to sponsor gleeful executioners of anything. Even slugs. So I told them I that I was finished and we visited about other things.
One time a woman who often walks by my house questioned my marauding. She asked why I just didn’t move the slugs to a field across the street. Since I’m convinced that wherever slugs multiply near my home they will find their way to my flowers, I just smiled and ignored the suggestion saying lamely, “I think they will just come back.”
She furrowed her brow but didn’t pursue her suggestion further before moving on down the street.
It bothered me, that it bothered her, that I had killed the poor helpless slugs just because they wanted to eat. So now, I try to drop the spade guillotine on slugs without an audience so that I won’t upset someone’s morning commune with nature.
When summer comes, the plants are usually sturdy enough to feed slugs and still put out flowers, so my slaughter wanes. Until fall. When I go after Boxelder bugs.
My mayhem with Boxelders is far less deliberate than my slice and dice with the slugs. Boxelders are harmless little flat bugs that feed on the Maple trees in our neighbor’s yard. The bugs don’t hurt the trees, so this is no big issue for the neighbors. The problem for me comes in the fall when swarms of Boxelder’s seek a place to hibernate for the winter.
Our house turns out to be a Boxelder magnet. They don’t really ask for much in terms of places to sleep through the winter. Just somewhere that is protected from the wind and where they have some buddies, preferably whole rafts of buddies, to help keep themselves from becoming freeze-dried little crips before the spring.
At some point in the evolution of boxelder bugs in our area, the word went out that we were a warm place to winter. The Palm Springs of our neighborhood since our house is exposed to the sun and our wood shingles provide cover and places to hide. In the fall, as the bugs search for hibernation spots, they often swarm the house and make our going out on the deck or through a door unpleasant. When they do mass under a shingle, little drops of sticky poop start running down the side of the house.
Flat little Boxelders as persistent and skilled in finding ways to work their way into the house even with the tightest weatherstripping. They will die after a few days in the house and litter carpet and otherwise look gross. My hand vac makes daily rounds picking up specks of death.
We can pay to envelop our house in insecticide, but it is a treatment that wipes out good bugs along with Boxelders, and it must be repeated every few weeks in the fall as the bugs seek out our house in waves. It doesn’t seem reasonable to repeatedly pay to spray bugs that may include those we like. After all, other than occasionally living with swarms and the annoyance of those that make it into the house, the local extension agent tells us that the Boxelders are harmless.
On sunny fall days when they come here in droves, Michael and I often harass the Boxelders with a hose to encourage them to find someplace else to spend the winter. If the result of this harassment is death, then all the better. A dead Boxelder won’t be around to start multiplying in the spring.
Yesterday, while I was murderous marauder with a garden hose, I remembered an incident that took place over a year earlier.
I emphasize that I wasn’t remembering an event from yesterday, or even a week earlier. Nope, this one took place over 14 months before and yet it popped up in my head to fill my mind with regret.
Last year, on a summer day, I was gardening and I came around the corner into my front yard to see a couple of men standing and watching the birds coming to my feeders. The guys appeared to be enjoying each other’s company as they commented and took pictures of the birds catching something to eat.
When they saw me, one commented on the variety of birds, and I just smiled and said something pleasant before going about my work as they took pictures.
Then I noticed that as the men started to turn and walk away, they looked down and appeared delighted by what they saw at their feet. And then they were taking pictures of the pavement instead of the birds.
“There are some pretty bugs mating down here. I wonder if you know what they are?”
I went to look at what was captivating them.
“Oh, they are pesky Boxelder bugs!”
And then I did the regretful thing I still remember. I just stomped on ecstasy and flattened the little buggers.
As he looked at the little dab of carnage at his feet, the picture-taker gasped and his friend put a hand on his shoulder as if to comfort him.
Then I got defensive and tried to explain what a problem Boxelders are for us in the fall.
They wandered off unconvinced I’m sure.
I regretted my lack of impulse control and spoiling their moment with the “pretty bugs.” My thoughtlessness. My superficiality in even worrying about the Boxelders.
Then I scolded myself for even considering what the people who wandered up my street thought about anything.
To sum up, I scolded myself for being inconsiderate and I second-guessed myself for even thinking about such thoughtlessness. My mind went through a couple of loops like chasing myself in circles until it becomes a diffuse buzz in my head.
Then I got on with life.
Or so I thought until I hosed the bugs off the house and remembered my inconsiderate stomp.
Then I second-guessing myself. Again.
As I thought about the circular craziness in my head, I wondered if I’m ever going to tell the story of my life. If I can remember squashing two blissful Boxelder bugs over a year after it happened, how am I going to write about my part in tragedy? Of years of mindlessly trying to fit into some notions of propriety? Of decades of cluelessness? Of sadness and heartache?
I have no fricken idea.
I suppose one reason for writing is to look back and figure out what was me and what was the person I thought I should be. Maybe I’ll find out that I’ve been a marauder at heart all along.
Whatever. Maybe a little more overlap between me (whoever she is) and my persona will make inevitable aging go more comfortably and there will be less looking over my shoulder and setting up dust storms in my head and cloud my thinking.
Clarity would be nice.
Picture of mating Boxelder bugs taken from https://www.whatsthatbug.com/2010/05/05/mating-boxelder-bugs-4/