The Universal Notebook: A liberal goes to war

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The summer of 2013 has been one of constant struggle and occasional open warfare.

With insects.

I’m not talking about mosquitoes and black flies. I’m a Maine native. I know how to deal with them. This year I have been doing battle royal with ants, fleas, hornets and bees, not to mention deer flies.

It was the insurgent ants that first got me going this summer. One day I discovered that tiny little pavement ants had infiltrated our home and established a supply route from the kitchen window up the wall and along the top of the cupboards. Barely noticeable, these busy little invaders went about their secret business despite our daily retaliations with a rubber spatula. (We didn’t want to spray anything because of the grandchildren.)

Then one day I took everything out of the cupboards and discovered that what they were after was a single sugary fruit jelly candy inside a clear plastic box. You would have thought it was impenetrable, but it was filled with a battalion of the little buggers. Tossed out the candy and got rid of the pests.

The fleas were much harder to combat. With a dog and cat that seemed to collaborate with the enemy, we just seemed to import more fleas whenever we thought we’d killed them off and driven them away. We applied Frontline and Advantix regularly to no advantage and began thinking fleas must have developed a tolerance. We vacuumed obsessively, but it was not until we broke down and carpet bombed with Siphotrol (the grandchildren had been gone) and added an internal weapon (Comfortis) to the arsenal that we finally turned the tide.

I am also pleased to report that I developed a dandy method of hand-to-hand combat with the fleas. Fleas are hard to catch and even harder to kill by hand, but a piece of rolled up masking tape proved to be just the thing for capturing any fleas brazen enough to actually land on me. One dab and they are stuck for life.

The bees waged a ground war. They stung Carolyn a couple of times while she was working in the backyard garden and refused to let anyone into the garden, imperiling access to the shed. It was not until I removed the little wire fence around the garden to mow the thick grass that had grown up there that I discovered their ground nest – the hard way. As soon as I ran over the spot, I was attacked and stung several times on the foot and ankle.

After researching how to get even with (and rid of) ground bees, I rejected the most toxic methods. Being a compassionate individual, rather than nuke them, I tried to gently persuade them to move by regularly watering their nest. Bees don’t like water. I regarded it as a process of negotiation. But when that didn’t work after a few days, I sprayed the little hole in the ground with enough force from the hose to extirpate the bees, their comb, wriggling larvae and all.

We liberals are a gentle lot, but don’t get us riled.

Until recently, the hornets had me fooled. Because they showed up every day inside the screen in my office, I naturally assumed they were somehow coming through the window. I kept a paper cup and card at hand so that I could trap the hornet against the screen with the cup, slide the card (which I just noticed has an illustration of a sleeping bee on it) over the top of the cup and transport the hornet outside. I must have deported close to two dozen hornets this way over the summer.

Then I discovered that they had a nest up under the shingles and were actually coming in through a small hole in the ceiling where ice on the roof created a leak a couple of years ago. The enemy is always probing for a weakness. One of these days I’m going to get around to patching that ceiling.

Having run out of patience with my entomological enemies, I went to the store, bought a big can of Raid and blasted the nest hole. The last two hornets of the year now lie lifeless on my desk, their little black and yellow bodies a reminder of the war I have reluctantly waged against the insect world this summer.

The deer flies were another story. They mainly bugged Rudy, our too-black dog. He couldn’t make it to the end of the driveway this summer without a swarm of them dive-bombing him. It got to the point where it wasn’t worth taking Rudy for a walk until the sun went down, because he’d spend all the time distracted, snapping at flies and sitting down to scratch himself.

As the weather cooled however, the deer flies became slow enough to pick off by hand. Now they are gone.

What all good diplomats and warriors know is that the solution to most problems in life is to wait them out. Time heals all wounds.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.