Monday, May 21, 2007
Poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac—I don’t know which one it is; it’s one of the poisons crawling up the sides of my tobacco shed, choking the life out of every other weed in its path. Either I’m not allergic to it or else it’s dormant in the winter, and if that’s the case—dormancy, like a sleeping bear, seeming for all appearances during hibernation sweet and benign and teddy-like, but that’s only to fool you—I better get to whatever I have to while the getting’s good.
The last thing I need is another one of those country things that make you itch and drive you crazy. Like chiggers. I learned about chiggers before we even moved in, while we were house-hunting and traipsing across overgrown pastures and strolling through wooded trails trying to see where the property line was and where we could put our horses.
All of a sudden we had spots that itched so bad, we wanted to scratch them till they bled. Being a girl, I was concerned about scars. (I’m 47 but I’m still a girl.) I called my mother from the motel because mothers know about medical things and other important stuff like hanging curtain rods and stopping crying babies. (I’m 47 but I still call my mother.) She didn’t know about the poisons though, coming from the city. But she warned of hearing about a boy who got an infection from scratching the crap out of a miskeeta bite and it got in all his blood and turned him green and then they had to cut his arm off. Kurt wanted to take our chances and scratch anyway.
“That’s all we need,” I said. “We have no insurance.”
“Well, what if we just scratch one of them?” he compromised. He lifted up his shirt and picked one. He started to scratch.
“Ah! That feels so good! You should try it.”
“You’re gonna get an infection!”
“Try it. Do it,” he dared.
Kurt thinks I’m a goody goody. I watched jealously. He closed his eyes and sighed. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I chose one on my thigh and dug in. I felt guilty, like a naughty schoolgirl. But I couldn’t help myself. It felt so good.
My mother put my father on the phone. He insisted it was bed-bugs since we traveled across country to get here and stayed in a variety of motels, some fancy with elevators and cards to open the door to your room, some touristy family places with small turquoise pools and pancake houses next door. And some were just like those ones you see in horror movies set in the desert with blinking neon lights, crushed velvet lampshades and lumpy mattresses. It was the mattresses that were in question once we started itching.
When we were done scratching, we got online and found out what it was, which, like the remedy—over-the-counter creams and sprays—wasn’t very soothing at all. For those of you who don’t know, who may not be from around these parts like me, chiggers are microscopic bugs that burrow under your skin and move around causing intense itching. I don’t know which is worse, chiggers or bed-bugs. An actual bug under your skin? What’s so peaceful and serene about this country living anyway if you have to worry about bugs crawling under your actual skin?
Okay, I had bigger bugs in Oklahoma. Like tarantulas and scorpions that preferred such hiding places as the empty leg of a pair of pants hanging over a chair or a tossed off boot. However, none of these creatures actually attacked my body if they had the choice.
In New Jersey, it was mosquitoes. We call them miskeetas and since we lived by the bay surrounded by crow-weeds and swamps, the town would go up in airplanes every now and then and spray. Of course when I lived in Jersey City when I was a kid, cockroaches were a problem. But once you bettered yourself and moved out of the apartments and went down the shore, you never had to worry about roaches again. Only miskeetas.
Here, we have the chiggers, the lady bugs, which are a whole other horror story in itself, and bees. Now bees normally don’t scare me. They don’t bother me at all. In fact, I got stung once because I wouldn’t stop cleaning the window when I was up on a ladder and came across a bee hive. I stubbornly sprayed the Windex around it. I guess I annoyed them because I suddenly felt a needle in my neck and that shocked me. What? I got stung? After all these years I finally got stung? I couldn’t believe it.
I fell off the ladder and landed in the rhododendron bush below. But I went right back up there after I brushed myself off and I got that window done. Of course we’re talking about a Jersey bee. They’re not as ferocious as the Virginia bee which comes in a wide variety and which will kill you as soon as look at you and which is the reason you can now buy bug spray in cans that will spray foam at the offender while you are standing a safe football field distance away.
But I can’t see it working on what Kurt calls “the rare king bee.” He’s too big. He’s enormous. He’s about as big as a man’s big toe and will drop on your head when you least expect it causing you to fall over backwards in your chair and run out of the room screaming. Oh, we’ve have every kind of bee here on my farm. We have wasps, hornets, wood bees, yellow jackets, bumble bees, you name it. But it’s the rare king bee who
strikes terror in my heart because I just don’t know how to kill him. You can’t swat him. You can’t step on him. At least with the tarantulas out west, we could pick them up with the pooper scooper and run out to the pasture where we’d deposit them in the tall grass far enough away from the house it would take them a while to get back again. But you can’t remove a king bee. What do you put him in?
One time I got one in the little trash can from the bathroom. I dazed him with the spray and then trapped him with the can, but then what? He buzzed around in there, knocking on the sides, shaking it in a threatening manner and I left the room and locked the door behind me just in case. Kurt had to do some tricky maneuvering with a cookie sheet to get him out of there. I retrieved my trash can from the yard the next day when I thought the coast was clear. He was nowhere in sight but I ran back to the house anyway. You don’t mess with bugs that can knock you over.
And now the poisons. It’s thick with hairy roots that twist and turn and it covers one whole side of the shed in a big knot like witch’s hair. I can weed-whack the tangle of it that is low enough, but how do I get it off the top of the tobacco shed? I can’t light it on fire because I’ll burn the shed down. I can’t use grass killer because my horses nibble over there.
I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I moved here. I might be street-smart—I know how to hold my pocketbook in a crowd, I know how to ride a subway and hop a fire hydrant, I can parallel park, play handball against a brick wall, skirt around panhandlers and speak up. But the country is not quite as simple as it seems and there are things that make me feel stupid. A city bumpkin, if you will. And so I’ll probably have to ask my neighbors Pearl and Eldon who were born here and who know about things like bugs and weeds. They’re experts in this country living stuff. They raise cattle. They have real farm machinery we don’t know what it’s for, plus there’s not a single weed on their tobacco shed. And I don’t see them scratching till kingdom come.