Spring, being that time of year when all manner of flora and fauna come out of their slumber, brings with it the unsavory critters, as well.
The good news is that my pecan trees are setting forth fresh green buds, which means winter is hereby duly declared officially over. So it is written, so let it be done!
The bad news is, when I walk the dogs to the bayou these days the dadgum deer flies attack me like in one of those Hope and Crosby jungle movies. I mean, those speckled-hooligans are terrible right now, and I dislike the smell of DEET-based repellents so much I only use them when company’s coming over that I’m not too fond of.
The Road to Chitimacha. Hey, that wouldn’t have been bad, would it? Bob and Bing coulda made a great movie about traveling through the swamps of Louisiana, having hilarious misadventures with alligators, cottonmouths and Justin Wilson to reach the fabled reservation. Somewhere along the way, Gen. George Armstrong Custer could have made the requisite cameo appearance and been promptly drowned trying to cross Bayou Teche in a leaky pirogue. Or maybe Gov. Bienville. Ah, six of one, half a dozen of another, I guess. See, Bienville is to the Chitimacha what Custer was to the Sioux: A swaggering zealot who caused a whole bunch of trouble over what amounted to a really small misunderstanding. Only difference is, Bienville had no counterpart to Little Big Horn.
Anyway, the other problem we’re having, every spring, is the carpenter bees. My father was a carpenter, you know, as were a couple of my grandfathers, and I have great respect for my friends who are carpenters. Carpenter bees do not deserve respect. They go in to work as unhired hands and without a contract – like illegal aliens, actually – and their hourly rate remains a mystery. They love old wooden houses, of course, but we who own them do not like carpenter bees.
They bore into the wood and make long, snaking tunnels through your joists, rafters, planks and posts. Not good. They leave tell-tale signs of their unpermitted job sites in the form of little piles of sawdust and fast-food cartons strewn everywhere, not to mention they whistle and cat-call at all the pretty ladybugs passing by.
Closing down a jobsite with caulk or the like will only work if you happen to catch them at work, otherwise they just bore another hole to create a new job. They’re sometimes away from work, brawling with other carpenter bees at a neighborhood bar. Worst of all, each generation comes back to the same place year after year where they propagate more little workers until your house looks like a vinyl-sided, metal-roofed chunk of Swiss cheese just before it collapses into a pile of rubble with irritated bees swarming around it.
There’s no effective poison or trap to control carpenter bees, so my girlfriend and I resort to the only proven method of carpenter bee control: Wooden paddles and sturdy fly swatters.
When I was a kid, I used to be able to hit them with my BB gun when they’d hover. No kidding, I really could. I probably could have ridden a wild mustang bareback at full gallop and picked off Cavalry officers with a lever-action Winchester, too, if I had been given half a chance. Now that I’m older I can’t see well enough, and I’m also not quite as clever and observant and I’m afraid I’ll break a window. Today we use wooden paddles and sturdy fly swatters.
Now, before you follow my lead, make sure you know what your prey is: Carpenter bees look a dang-sight like ground bees. Carpenter bees are fairly innocuous, though they’d probably bite you if you grabbed one bare-handed and tried to kiss it. Ground bees also can be big and black and yellow, and will sting the ever-loving heck out of you with a stinger the size of a pencil lead. I once ran over a nest of ground bees in the back yard with the riding lawnmower and they attacked me so vigorously I leaped from the mower, which continued on one way while I went the other. They chased me all the way to the road, a good 300 feet or so, and stung me 14 times before giving me up for dead. The lawn mower was so old it didn’t have all those new-fangled safety features they do now, and it just kept going, blade spinning, straight for the bayou, and the only thing that stopped it from going overboard was a sturdy pecan tree. Regardless, the infuriated bees continued to attack it as it roared there, wheels spinning, so I just let the thing run out of gas. Later I eradicated the nest of ground bees by a method I won’t reveal here for fear of EPA reprisals.
The best thing about this carpenter bee hunting sport is they’re smart. Once they’re on to you – which is usually after three or four of their compatriots have met the paddle with the most satisfying crack! you can imagine – they get pretty wise:
"Hey, did you hear about ol’ Buzzer?"
"Man, we was just hovering there out by the red irises, shooting the bull about the big pool game Friday, and BAMM!!! I saw a streak and a blur and there was this gust of wind and then ol’ Buzzer was down there on the ground with head, wings and behind all backwards and mixed up!"
Well, you get the idea. They wizen up pretty quick, and get more challenging. You always gotta step on ‘em, too, because even a good solid smack won’t always be enough, just stuns them, then they fly off to tell the rest of the brood Godzilla is coming and he’s pretty hacked off.
We have plenty of dirt daubers in the garage and such, too, and the shame of dirt daubers is they are victims of a cousin’s bad rap sheet. Though they’re wasps they rarely, rarely, rarely ever sting. But your basic dirt dauber looks so much like those varieties of wasps that’ll sting the hallelujah brethren out of you just because he’s having a bad day. Dirt daubers actually are good predators on spiders and skeeters and other such pests, but sure as shootin’, if anything red and wasplike comes hovering around in the shop or the house, it’s got a death warrant no matter how goody-two-shoes it’s led its life, and will promptly experience a very close relationship with either a fly swatter or rolled magazine. I admit to said prejudice. In my philsophy there are three golden rules:
1) Every gun is loaded.
2) Every snake is poisonous.
3) Every bug that resembles a wasp stings the hallelujah brethren out of you.
Evenings are getting to be a bummer, because we like to sit and watch sunset with the puppy, but the skeeters are starting to show up en masse.
If someone would train dirt daubers to eat skeeters and then let the carpenter bees eat the dirt daubers and then move into their dauber’s nest rather than chew up my joists, rafters and posts, then we’d be on to something!