Many of us have wished for that home in the country -- a life closer to nature. Watch what you ask for: sometimes, nature can get a little too chummy, as commentator and hobby farmer Ken Chiacchia reports.
The invasion comes in waves. This spring, my home is under siege once again.
In the fall, field mice sneak into the house to escape the cold. They sound like wart hogs scurrying around in the walls and above the ceilings. It drives our dogs crazy. It also poses a control challenge, even though the barn cats have also discovered a route into the house. The cats come in to warm up and hunt when it's really bitter outside, but never seem to clear the house the way they do the barn. Stink bugs, wasps, and sometimes Japanese ladybugs will also come in from the cold. In the spring, eggs laid by the insects hatch, and the place fills up with bleary-compound-eyed interlopers.
It's part of the price you pay for living in a 110-year-old farm house on 26 acres of fields and woods. My wife, Heather, and I both enjoy the amazing variety of wildlife that clusters near habitat transitions.
The stink bugs are a nuisance, though a fairly significant one. If you crush one, the smell is interesting in the way that a skunk smells interesting, from a safe distance. If you crush two or three stink bugs, it starts to turn your stomach. Last year, we had to hunt down hundreds of them.
The ladybugs are more than a nuisance. They live up to the unlikely trope from Alien of the creature with acid for blood. One of our dogs ate one last year, and was choking and coughing for the rest of the day. The little SOBs bite, too.
But it's the wasps that give us the biggest problem. I like wasps -- I hate to kill them. The ones who invade our house are a sleek, glossy black, with a few gold bands around their abdomens. Wasps are, if you look at them closely, breathtakingly beautiful animals, graceful and so perfect in form that they've had no reason to change for something like 140 million years. That's 70 times as long as we've been around. So much for the idea that evolution progresses, rather than simply diversifies.
Unfortunately, though I've long admired wasps, I can't let the ones in my house live. Heather is deathly allergic -- no exaggeration -- and we just can't take the chance. So after the spring sun rises and I've watered and fed the livestock, but before I leave for the day job, I must conduct a seek-and-destroy Dawn Patrol.
Inevitably, I miss one or two. The other day, Heather woke to find one crawling across her eye. Don't know how she avoided getting stung. As memorable, perhaps, I once pulled on my shorts to find an unamused stowaway in them. Fortunately I'm not allergic, but it still isn't an experience I recommend.
This spring, there've been a lot more stink bugs than wasps, and no ladybugs. We're hoping that a series of allergy shots will make the wasps a nuisance for Heather, rather than a life threat. At that point, we may be able to let down our guard a bit. We're never going to share, exactly -- but we may be able to observe the occasional truce.