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Photo by Anthony DiMatteo
Hotter than usual June temperatures have helped birth migrating hordes of flea beetles, a devastating nuisance to local gardeners.
Thousands of tiny beetles are crawling on me. Flea beetles. Theyíre in my ears, and theyíre blurring my eyes. My arms and torso are coated with a layer of wiggling black. Army ants are climbing my legs, biting and tearing at my flesh. A hundred staccato wasp stings paralyze me. Theyíre lifting me up now, carrying me away to feed their innumerable colonies. This is what I deserve. Their revenge has come full circle. The insects have won.
Itís the heat Ė it always gives me nightmares. Like last June, this month is far too hot. We open the windows at night, but it does little good. Three times last week I awoke overheated and paranoid from insect nightmare land. Are the beetles and ants coming in through the screens? Is there a wasp nest under my pillow?
Iíve never been a killer, yet this year I became a mass murderer. Itís the heat Ė it always boils my brainpan. Bad decisions are imminent. Normally, my Catholic altar boy guilt pangs so hard I actually think for a second before smashing the mosquito that just violated my body and stole my blood. What more justification does one need, right?
My victims were asking for it. Thatís what I tell myself again and again. They attacked my wife and children, and our apiary. They stole our food. They violated the balance of my mind. They crossed the line, and itís their fault.
Like a crazy person, Iím in the yard talking to ants and wasps, negotiating our yearly truce. If you leave us alone you can live here. This land is ours to share. The wasps giggle and hiss, and the ants just stare. Flea beetles snicker and land on me just long enough to test my patience. Itís obvious that no matter what I say, no matter what compromises are offered, the insects arenít willing to listen this time.
At the clothesline, ants are irking my wife, hurting her. They bite and bite and chase her away. My son screams and runs across the yard, swiping at his legs. In the strawberry patch, more ants are burrowing into the cores of the ripest fruits. Beleaguered soldier bees stand guard at their hive entrances to do battle with marching lines of even more ants. The bees are losing the fight, and the ants are carrying away scores of dead bees along with chunks of honeycomb. This is not part of our deal.
In the gardens, flea beetles are devastating our kale, turnips and broccoli rabe. Theyíre taking far more than the share promised them. In the greenhouse, wasps bounce off my head and buzz my ears and mock me. I yell at them and demand they let me harvest peas and spinach without fear of assault. Donít make me do it! I swear Iíll do it! Iíll kill your whole family! They dare me further and my mind snaps. Suddenly, heartbreakingly, all I want to do is kill. Kill them all. Our deal has run forfeit.
Two containers of ant poison and one can of wasp spray: twenty bucks. The mental impact of using them? Apparently eternal.
Thatís life in the valley.