"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Warm Weather Work (Slug Shoes)

Today brought the first real warm weather of the season, by which I mean I'm pretty sure it was over 64 degrees fahrenheit. In any case it was warm enough that I got rather sweaty doing some digging out in the garden.

The potatoes that I planted as an experiment in tubs in the playroom back in january (Spud 'Speriment (Potato Poetry)) needed to be hilled already, which I did, digging up some nice black dirt from the oldest, backmost part of the compost heap, now five years old and covered with grass. I also did quite a bit of transplanting. I transplanted some sage and some thyme from black plastic into pretty, porch-worthy containers. I moved some globe artichoke starts from the greenhouse outside, and I moved the greenhouse tomatoes and peppers into larger containers. 65 degrees notwithstanding, I don't trust the weather enough to move tomatoes outside until June.

After all that shovel work, my back was aching and I needed a stretch. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed the tiny white cobwebby beginnings of a tent caterpillar infestation in the orchard. Tent caterpillars, for those of you lucky enough to live somewhere they don't, are a thoroughly disgusting form of insect life with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Tent caterpillars are one of those mysterious kinds of bug that has some multi-year life cycle, making it difficult to predict when they are going to show up. Like locusts. The lore of my youth said that every three - or five - or seven years there would be a bad infestation. That doesn't even leave much scope for accuracy, but what I can say is that we have lived here for seven years and these are the first I've seen.

This link will tell you more about tent caterpillars and what kind of unholy chemical hell you can unleash on them if you are so inclined (http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/caterpillars.htm). I prefer to walk the orchard on fine evening such as this, and when I see a tent, I bend over and grab a dock leaf, or a plantain leaf, or some other broad and sturdy leaf; fold it into my palm, and squish the little fuckers manually.

It's an unpleasant job, squishing caterpillars by hand. Nobody said homesteading was always aesthetically pleasing. I never promised you a rose garden. However I will say that today, squishing caterpillars in the warm, slanting sunshine with a carpet of dandelions under my feet and the orchard blossoms forming a fragrant cloud about my head was considerably more pleasant than squishing caterpillars was last week, when I was doing it in a frigid drizzle.

Times like this, I sometimes wish I had a boy child, who might actively enjoy such work. When I was small and we lived on a small farm, my father put a bounty on slugs in the springtime. Slugs are one of the many banes of a garden, and my dad didn't like to use chemical control if he could help it. He preferred to pay us kids to deal with them. Many's the dewy morning I was sent out with a salt shaker. Because we all liked to go barefoot in the springtime, we all, of course, often had the unpleasant experience of stepping on a slug.

Even today, I have a visceral memory of that awful, unexpected slimy squash, followed by the grim discovery that slugs just don't wipe off. A squished slug forms a sticky plaque that endures for days. Me and my sister, whenever we stepped on a slug, would emit high pitched squeals and run to the gravel driveway to commence the futile task of scraping our feet. My brother, on the other hand, actually enjoyed stepping on slugs.

I remember him stomping around the garden, about nine years old, defiantly barefoot, squashing every slug he could find. He said he was going to make himself a pair of slug shoes. He covered every square centimeter of the soles of his feet with that thick, sticky, durable, dark brown substance otherwise known as slug guts.

Really, who hasn't stepped on a slug? I pity the child who never has. As horrible as the experience is, at least it means I'm walking on grass. What are those kids stepping on instead, cigarette butts? I'm glad my fingers and thumb know the feel of a mass of tiny caterpillars meeting their doom between them. I'm glad I know that bug guts are greeny-yellow; that spit bugs spit on bladderwort; that buttercups feel greasy; that garter snakes stink but don't bite; and that push comes to shove, I can always make shoes out of slugs.


Anubis Bard said...

What a great post. I recall afternoons of pulling the heads off Japanese beetles. Once your fingers know where that hinge is, it goes like clockwork. Or my grandmother used to sell kerosene in her store and we'd fill a tin can for tipping bugs into. I remember there being a penny bounty for potato bugs.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this classic Northwest story! We would incinerate the caterpillars though. I do remember the infestations being much worse when I was a kid. Sometimes it was hard to drive with all the slimy caterpillars on the road.