Wednesday, September 26, 2007

controlling the environment

We live in a world where meteorologists apologize for weather that does not comply with expectations or weekend agendas.

Whenever possible, if our environment doesn’t suit us, we change it. We play sports under domes - the rain delay only a fond memory, killed off is its spontaneous song and dance put on by soaking wet idiots in the nosebleed section. We burn holes in the ozone with big, climate-controlled SUVs. We cut down trees that block our view and build dams to divert water from where we want to live. We hose the shit out of what should be desert until it snaps to at our heels, growing a lackluster shade of green.

Luckily for me, as a renter, I get to enjoy old-fashioned helplessness when it comes to my surrounding environment. Once upon a time we lived as renters in a condo complex where we were actively disregarded and left uninformed. We never quite knew what we’d wake up to – chainsaws in the live oaks, power washing on our patio. Finally, when the condo association entered our patio to rip out a young acacia tree that had happily started up on its own outside my kitchen window, all bets were off.

We had friends around the corner having some work done on their house and the craftsman just happened to leave his sledgehammer there for the night. Mike smashed up one of the squares of cement on our patio to make way for a 3’ x 3’ water garden. While the sledge hammering was in progress, a neighbor passed by. “What are you doing?” he asked Mike. “Gardening,” said my husband, resting the sledgehammer on his shoulder and wiping his forehead. We carried the crooked pieces of concrete to the dumpster after dark.

But even when we are gentle in our campaigns to mold our environment to our liking, things can get ugly. This summer, my garden was the site of The Great Aphid Festival. Aphids moved in with their tiny little aphid suitcases, greeting long lost cousins with relish, hosting aphid raves, where they would swing from vines, trees, flowering buds, make out on the underside of leaves, and generally go wild. (I think I might have spotted teeny-tiny little glow sticks, but it could have just been the slant of the sun.)

And where there are aphids, there are ants – big bully bouncer ants standing at the doors of the biggest raves with their arms crossed over their tee shirts that read “Security” across the back. Some of you may know about this symbiotic relationship – the aphid generates a substance called “honeydew” that the ants dig. Apparently, if you’re an ant, this stuff is so way yummy that you actually protect aphid eggs to ensure their buddies and future generations will stick around. And it goes on from there…

Like a good organic gardener, I went out and bought ladybugs to spread around that would hopefully dine on the partying aphids. I decided to put them in the garden while Isaac wasn’t around still concerned as I was about creating the kind of scene I witnessed when Isaac was around a year old… (I need a “Wayne’s World” flashback sequence sound here.)

We were with friends at a local organic farm for an Earth Day celebration that included food, entertainment, a train for the kids to ride on, and a woman dressed as a giant ladybug who was supposed to take the kids out into the field to release real live bugs.

So, the key phrase here is “out in the fields.” You, see, the giant ladybug didn’t really go out into the fields, but rather stood on the edge of the field. Four- and five-year-olds swam at her feet as more and more real ladybugs crawled out of her bag, onto the ground and the people there for the spectacle. It was a tickly, joyous atmosphere until, lo and behold, the train came around again and everyone who could stepped out of the way.

You’ve probably guessed what came next – Yup. Sobbing preschoolers fretting at the wheels of the mini-train, beside themselves, crying, “You’re killing them! You’re killing them!”

(Return from flashback.)

Not wanting any unforeseen massacre to jar Isaac, I went it alone – just me and the bugs.

Everything was smooth, I thought. I went out into the garden a couple hours later to check on them and found them here and there, though their numbers seemed a little thin. Then I noticed an ant who seemed to have hold of one of the ladybug’s legs. Odd. Then I noticed several ants who, if I didn’t know any better, seemed to be ganging up on a ladybug, like, kind of, attacking it. By the evening, I could only find a couple of my spotted friends hunkered down in the crook of a calla lily leaf.

A little research confirmed my fears. Ants actually protect aphids from predators, organizing to fight them off. (“You’re killing them! You’re killing them!”)

I guess we aren’t the only ones that manipulate our surroundings to suit us better.

I have stopped killing bugs since Isaac was born, fixated as I am on teaching him to respect all life. I have even stopped hurling snails into the street, which if you know me at all, is huge. (Isaac likes to transport them in his bulldozer to the shabby patch of vegetation in the island of our street, from where, he believes, they “go home to mama.”) But these freaking ants are testing me – invading our pantry, swarming whenever I water – carrying their eggs frantically to higher ground, coming in with garden bouquets to jog across the coffee table, and – for godssake – killing my ladybugs?? while the aphids party hard.

And after the domes can help us no more, and the dams kill off the river life, and the SUVs kill off the ozone layer, you thought it was going to be the cockroach that survived.

1 comment:

bobbie said...

This one was some of your best writing ever.

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