Well, well… wonders never cease: I have a “pretty good” infestation of ants, mice, and red squirrels in my new Vermont place. Forgive me for not being shocked, shocked that I’m shacking up, once again, with a pack of dimwit exoskeletons and beady-eyed little punks. Vermin have been following me around all my life. Rodents. Insects. Even amphibians. (No S-words, thank God. As faithful readers are aware, the day I find a sn-ke in my house will be the beginning of End Times.) I believe it’s my alluring pheromones these ‘successful adapters’ find so irresistible. [As a little aside, E.O. Wilson once said that the future looks pretty bleak for most of the earth’s residents, especially for us fussy ‘higher order’ types, but dig down a foot or two under the ground and everybody’s doing just fine.]
My multi-legged roommates have been so numerous over the years I find it helpful to group them scientifically. Phylum: Arthropoda, for example, which included two separate bouts of termites one of which was described by the Orkin man as an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being ‘biblical plague level.’ In addition: a variety of ho-hum infestations of mere ants, millipedes, moths (Class Lepidoptera, Meal and Wool), cockroaches (Class Blattodea, Yuk), and wasps and bees. And there’s also Phylum: Chordata, Class Mammalia, Order Rodentia, aka field mice, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, and rats. I’ll return to rats in a moment – RATS… did you get that? But suffice to say that I’m the only person I know in my demographic – the ‘unschooled in laying traps and beating rodents to death with one’s bare hands’ demographic – whose little children played “Exterminator Man” and “Rat Family” when they were growing up in a nice Victorian row house in wholesome Hyde Park, across the street from then-state senator, Barack Obama. And how many people have you met who’ve had a plague of frogs (Class Amphibia, Order Anura) take up residence in their swimming pool for a whole summer?
Living in such a “diverse” ecosystem hasn’t brought out the best in me, historically speaking. There’s the time a bat flew into my hair. Okay, I exaggerate. It didn’t exactly fly into my hair, but it scared me witless while I was watching the Sopranos episode where Tony garrots Fabian Petrulio on Meadow’s Maine college tour. My husband claims I went all antediluvian, screaming, “Protect me! Protect me!” and had to be peeled off the wall. I deny this. Another time I was sitting at my kitchen table after everyone had gone to sleep, writing a smiley note for my kindergartner’s lunch box, and in my mind’s eye, the kitchen was dimly lit with a sinister green glow. There was an eerie stillness as I gradually became aware of being ‘watched,’ and when I turned around, hair standing up on the back of my neck, a creature was stirring: a huge brown street rat, staring me down with his malicious gleaming little eyes. I screamed. He didn’t flinch. If he could have given me the finger, he would have done so at that point. I screamed again. Jumped on the table. Haughty rat looked around slowly, sniffed in disgust, and hauled his fat ass under the refrigerator. Husband came running. Thought our infant daughter was dead. Etcetra.
And yet… I’m not really troubled by a few pesky red squirrels eating through all my electrical work and burning down the whole house because I’ve got decades of pest management experience. (Note the word “management” here; exterminators don’t bother pretending to sell elimination, actual eradication. Such ugly, declarative words! They’re happy to remove a few carcasses, take your money, and instruct you in the finer points of healthy “co-existence,” the point being that you can’t really expect to annihilate something that’s managed rather well for over 400 million years. I’m okay with this, more or less.
But here’s the dilemma: I’m looking for a certain level of “management” that I’m not sure is readily available in my new adopted home. See, I’ve only slept one night in Vermont and I’m already feeling like a “Flatlander” jackass. (Flatlanders are what native Vermonters call non-Vermonters; it doesn’t matter if you’re from Montana, and assume four and five thousand-foot mounds are called hills, you’re still a Flatlander.) Everyone keeps telling me to go with all the terrific sustainable options that have improved so much in the last few years and that will keep my family and my glorious eco-system safe (Green Mountain state, get it?) and I’m too ashamed to admit that I’m not losing sleep over my underground water table and how many salamanders’ genitals’ I’ve deformed: I just want the damned vermin out of my kitchen.