I have successfully faced snakes, mean horses and mean men, but my stomach does a slow ferris wheel turn when it comes to bugs.
So when we had a very nice person from the county come out to the farm to check the pastures for noxious weeds, I watched with a mixture of awe and horror as he inspected a cob-webbby looking thing on one of our fruit trees and casually reached up with his bare hand to pull it down.
“Tent caterpillar nest,” he announced as he nonchalently flicked the disgusting, filmy mass from his fingers. He went on to look for noxious weeds and I looked over the rest of the fruit trees, where much to my dismay I saw more cob-webby looking tent things parked on various branches, no doubt housing hundreds of fuzzy, multi-footed creatures that in my book fell under the nauseating umbrella category of BUGS.
I did a bit of research on tent caterpillars, and this is what I learned from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment:
“Prevention and early control is important. Removal and destruction of the egg masses from ornamentals and fruit trees during winter greatly reduces the problem next spring. In the early spring, small tents can be removed and destroyed by hand. Larger tents may be pruned out and destroyed or removed by winding the nest upon the end of a stick.”
I mentioned it to Matt, but he was preoccupied elsewhere, digging fence post holes, courting our plumping system and strategizing on how to build a three-room compost bin. I briefly debated placing an ad in the local paper: Wanted: Unflappable person to de-tent very small orchard. And then I told myself to get over it, that I’d soon get to the nests on my own. I’d pull those suckers off our fruit trees. One of these days. Soon.
Weeks passed and I carted wheelbarrows full of poop, weeded the rhubarb garden, went on search and rescue missions in the garage for things buried in boxes but never got around to the caterpillar nests.
Then seemingly overnight, our small orchard began to sprout fruit. And lo, we had pears! And plums! And more than one kind of apple! And…wait a minute, more tent caterpillar nests!
I had propped a small ladder against one of the more prolific apple trees and was happily plucking the fruit and dropping it into a shoulder bag strapped across my body when I realized that the apple I was reaching for had apparently fallen victim to one of the undestroyed caterpillar tents.
Hey, wait a minute, those are OUR apples! I said to the nest. Righteous indignation apparently fuels courage. Gritting my teeth, I snatched that nasty nest off the branch and flung it to the ground. I may have squealed a little, I don’t remember, but nothing came crawling up my arm baring fangs or stingers, so I grabbed another.
Caterpillar tents zero, Amy, two. And then I looked up. Directly above me was the granddaddy of all caterpillar nests. If I climbed and then stood on my tiptoes on the top rung of the ladder, I could juuuust reach it with my fingertips.
So I took a breath, climbed, tiptoed, clutched at the nest with my long skinny fingers and pulled. And the giant thing imploded, with particles of nest and caterpillars spilling onto my hair, my face and down my shirt.
I didn’t scramble down the ladder so much as leap to the ground while simultaneously swatting a mass of insect goo out of my hair and yelling. I grabbed my shirt away from my skin as if it were on fire, all the while still shrieking and smacking madly at my own person to dislodge more bug goo, and it was at that moment that one of the dozens of Christmas-tree colored, Lycra-clad tourists who pedal past our place on a daily basis slowed as he passed our house.
“Nice!” he yelled. Did he mean our farmhouse? The fruit-laden trees? My unhinged Isadora Duncan-esque cavorting? I don’t know. I didn’t even look up as I continued to yelp and leap about, divesting myself of caterpillar corpses.