free hit counter Snacks, please!: Trapping Aliens in the Trees??

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Trapping Aliens in the Trees??

You might have to be of a certain time and place -- namely, New England or New York, early 80s -- to recognize what this Arlington homeowner is really trying to do with tin foil and Vaseline, but man, did the sight of these trees take me back. When I saw them, I stopped the double strolller in its tracks. Shuddered. Tried to block out the memories, the nightmare vision of our flaming weapons, uniformed soldiers running through the oaks, the sweet smell of poison raining from the sky. For a moment there, I was like Thomas Magnum, treading water in the ocean, hearing helicopters, engaged in a flashback.

Are the Gypsy Moths really back? Lucy and I went on a hike in Potomac Overlook Park last weekend and this other little girl found an amazing caterpillar, gray with beautiful red spots, which she cupped in her hand, teased into crawling along her wrist, and proudly showed the other kids. It was all I could do not to knock it from her hands. The other parents said, "Wow! Good find, Nina!" and I said nothing, but grimly imagined its bright green blood under my Sauconys. "Here, little girl, let me see your precious caterpillar..."

There are three stages in the Gypsy Moth life: eggs, caterpillars and moths. Let's start with the first, which my father tackled himself with a propane torch and a bamboo stick. Aim that sucker at a buff suede spot of moth eggs and the little demons crackle and pop as they burn. To reach them, my father had a two-story retractable, aluminum-frame ladder, and when that didn't reach high enough into our oaks, he tied the torch to the pole and waved his blue flame another six feet higher into the branches. During the fall, he did this every night before dinner.

But, of course, the Gypsy Moth was a wily opponent and thousands survived to spring, grew into wriggly worms, and started munching away. You'd drive up I-84 and it looked like winter, not a leaf on the trees. You could actually hear them chewing! (According to Wikipedia, in 1981, the gypsy moth defoliated 12.9 million acres -- an area bigger than Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined.) So, in the spring, my father would call in the professionals, the Butler Tree boys from West Hartford, who would storm the backyard in protective uniforms, wielding big spray guns that rained poison on the very tops of our trees. My little brother and I would watch them from the bay window in our backroom and it was pretty awesome. Of course, we were not allowed to play outside afterward.

I actually remember them falling from the trees on our heads (disgusting!!), sometimes swinging from a very fine silk thread and aiming for your face every time. And I remember marching around the schoolyard during recess, hoping to find some, hoping to make a neon green smear on the asphalt. If the hairs touched your skin, sometimes they would leave a red rash. I remember feeling that fur inside the sleeve of my windbreaker, hm, what is that -- oh, the horror! To pull out your arm and find a Gypsy Moth on it!

Then, by July or August, the caterpillars would turn into creamy spotted furry moths -- and there wasn't so much you could do about them, at least in a systematic way. My father would snatch them from the air in his hand, throw them to the ground and curse, "Goddamn Gypsy Moth!" and then crow when he smashed it under his Docksiders. (Okay, yes, he's kind of a nut. Wait until I tell you about the squirrels...But really, everybody was like this!)

Anyway, are they really back? Because seriously, I have enough problems between snuffly babies (please tell me they're not getting sick AGAIN!!!!), ants in the living room, and a RAT!!! in the backyard. I can't take it. (Note how gypsy moths merit a whole post, while a big rat feasting on watermelon rinds in our composter gets a mere mention -- and I really do hate rats too. Really, really, really. And I hate baby germs too, with a VENGEANCE!!!)


Blogger Daav said...

Actually, what we've got are Tent Caterpillars. Not nearly as awful as the dreaded Gypsy Moths, but they squish the same irridescent green goo just the same.

May 24, 2007 at 12:52 PM  
Blogger Pamela said...

At camp we had a contest on which cabin could collect the most (in those huge cans from the mess hall) and then there would be a great bonfire when we cooked them! They really made good solid New Englanders freaky murderers.

May 24, 2007 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger Mary Ellen said...

It's IRIDESCENT. Why must you embarrass me in public with your terrible spelling? God... But thank you for helping me sleep better at night :)
And Pamela,
You didn't eat them, did you?? hee.

May 24, 2007 at 3:39 PM  
Anonymous Shelly C said...

Well, so long as the rats are in the compost pile and not in the house...Our pest control guy puts out boxes with poison in them. They seem to work though I think a few hapless squirrels end up doing a Socrates. Poor little buggers.

May 25, 2007 at 5:18 AM  

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