Thursday, November 17, 2011


That high pitched screech you hear when I hit my high note at the sudden and unexpected encounter with an insect is something I call my “Bug Scream.” I’m a soprano, not the TV mobster kind, just the natural pitch of my vocal range kind. My choral director in Sweet Adelines once told me, “Marcia, only dogs can hear notes that high.” OK, maybe.

Let’s just say that I like to be properly introduced to bugs. I like to work up to a relationship with them and not have bugness thrust upon me, so to speak. Sometimes the dog comes in from a patrol of the back yard and brings in a hitchhiking baby slug. If I see it first, I feel quite calm about getting a tissue to transport junior to the back door (or to the toilet for a good flush if my husband isn’t home). My husband tends to name the snails and slugs that we encounter. I do not. Being surprised by one and getting advance warning are completely different experiences when the slimy-footed types are involved. After all, I love seashells and those are just seagoing slimy-footed types.

No, it’s the solid exo-skeleton bugs that give me the screeches. One thing I’ve noticed about living in northern California is that the bug thing isn’t as much of an annoyance as it is in other places in the US. Of course there are startling exceptions in California, like the potato bug. The first time I ran across one of those was in Copperfield Books in Petaluma. I was browsing through a spinning rack of interesting greeting cards, picked one up and woke my new friend up from its nap. Very shortly after that I woke up everyone within about a block, including the dogs. It’s just the one noise I make but it’s startling and completely involuntary.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

I have a typical Knight of Wands reaction to little crawly beasties. Although I have never stood on a chair swinging a baseball bat at a bug while screaming at the top of my lungs, the urge has been there. I don’t mean to be unkind to them. I have this roach phobia from my childhood in Florida and I’m horrified every time I think that they apparently can survive quite a while without their heads [ed., she refrains from drawing any analogies to politicians here] and are likely to survive a nuclear blast. When it comes to bugs, I tend to have a “don’t think, just do” approach.

We’re certainly not bug-free here in California. There are fleas. This year was especially flea-ful since there was just a bit more rain. My vet told me that people were resorting to dosing their critters twice a month instead of the usual once-a-month treatment for the back-of-the-neck flea and tick killer. The dog and cats greet this treatment with the same enthusiasm the Occupy crowds have when told they need to disperse. They of course do not like the fleas any more than I do so we came to a compromise. The agreed not to take my hand off at the ankles when I put the flea stuff on them as long as they can grouse about it and I have to comfort them in their distress but only if and when they want it. Strong prima dona strains run in the cat family here.

The diva thing doesn’t prevent me from trying to teach everyone to hunt and eat bugs so mommy doesn’t stand on a chair and scream. They have so far shown moderate enthusiasm for this activity. What if a cat were too warm to move? Or too comfortable? Or bored? Or well-fed? Or engaged in some debate with one of the other cats? One could not be bothered with something as mundane as a Daddy Long Legs in the bathtub.

And we can’t forget scorpions. Seriously I’ve only seen the one but it was the sports spectacular version at the river house with my friends. But we do have them. There are pillbugs, aphids, ladybugs, moths, butterflies, mosquitoes, stinkbugs and spiders. This was a really big spider year too. They all began making webs early around July; usually September is their season. Usually they are what we used to call “jumping spiders” which helped you judge your distance in observation. The “garden spiders” (these are not technical terms, for you arachnophiles) were the big web-builders this year and there was one hum-dinger out on the patio, about the size of a half-dollar if you include the leg-span. My husband deposited that one in the agapanthus. After all, they eat other bugs so I don’t really want to kill them.

I’m just a little disappointed that there are no fireflies in California. Of all the bugs from my years in the Midwest, fireflies were my favorite. They hover like little votive candles over the ditches and meadows on a humid evening, looking for a date. On a trip back to Missouri, my husband thought he was suffering from fatigue-induced hallucinations. He was relieved when I pointed to the ditches full of ditch lilies in the twilight and laughed, “No, honey, those are BUGS.”

My Big Bad Bug encounter this year was with the yellow jacket on September 11 as I patiently waited for the firemen and police to come for coffee and cakes. I can barely see the scar now, which is surprising since I was pretty sure at the time my finger was going to fall off. The encounter did bring up some creative thinking about a new cartoon super heroine called Yellow Jacket who was completely into must-have fashions and of course ridding the world of meanness, one sting at a time. I figure my super-heroine has a thing for chocolate. Well, it got me buzzing; I could see the fantastic array of yellow jackets she would wear. Why stick to just one super costume?

It doesn’t seem to be such a huge logical leap that much of my professional life has been dedicated to the finding, eradicating and preventing of bugs. Well, that’s in software at least. I used to keep a trilobite fossil next to my keyboard at work. Just the thought of a time when the whole planet was literally crawling with these scuttly critters is enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. As a touchstone, it helped inspire my own “Spidey Sense” to find and fix problems in software intuitively. I’m so grateful that I’m not the only person in technology who does this sort of thing. One of my best friends admitted, although she can remain anonymous here, that she too has spent a career of having people ask her, “How did you know that was the problem?” and having to answer with a shrug. Heck, just had that crawling sensation over here in this section of the system…well, it’s hard to explain. But it brings out the Knight of Wands in me although I do tend to suppress the whole “primal scream with a weapon” when it comes to working on software.

Yet, I’m still grateful for all the critters (ok, I don’t see what possible positive impact a cockroach has but I’ll bet someone will try to tell me) and I encourage bees in my yard with some bee-attracting plants. I’ll buy a box of live ladybugs at the garden center in the spring to set upon the aphids if need be. I must say I’m not looking forward to the annual migration of the tiny ants, which are fair-weather ants at best. When the winter rains come they come indoors and forage for the interesting things in the carbs section of the cabinets. If you hear high-pitched screaming and rhythmic crashing coming from my house on a rainy day, don’t worry. That’s just my inner Knight of Wands expressing itself freely!

Best wishes!

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