Ask people where they seek solace and most likely you'll hear of an outdoor place: sitting by the ocean, hiking in the woods or working in the garden. This pull toward nature is part of who we are. In his 1973 book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, psychologist Erich Fromm defined this phenomenon as biophilia: "the passionate love of life and all that is alive." Entomologist E.O. Wilson went on to refine this definition a decade later in his book Biophilia, realigning the definition with his bug-centric worldview. "Human evolution is enmeshed with nature and our love of all living things is innate," he said.
Fast-forward 15 years and it seems that what we're experiencing is a transition from biophilia to biophobia, a fear of living things. Especially the creepy-crawly ones. I recall summers spent sprawled out on a blanket in the grass, devouring books on loan from the local library. This past summer, in an attempt to avoid chiggers, I laid out in plastic chairs at the local public pool. It was still an intoxicating experience, but not quite the same connectedness you feel when lying in the grass, twirling your fingers around dandelions and feeling the earth beneath you. There were also droves of mosquitoes emboldened by our steamy, wet summer. No matter what time of day, we were prey.
Then, along came the arachnids. Anyone who's lived on the prairie can tell you about brown recluse spiders and identify a person within six degrees of separation who's been bitten. "BRs," my friend Carolyn likes to call them. I like to call them the stuff of nightmares because I'm not sure what else you call spiders that can live six months without food or water, and are small enough to be undetected yet have a venomous bite that can cause your flesh to decay.
I'm ashamed to admit I've squished many spiders this summer because of my fear. I hadn't really considered brown recluses until a friend (once removed) was bitten this summer and nearly required a skin graft. People kept telling me to look for a violin shape on the spider's back. I don't know who gets close enough to determine exactly what musical instrument is on a bug's back, but it's not me.
This move to a new home took that concern to a whole new level when the neighbor across the street from my new house—who has since moved—told me I had BRs. And then, for good measure threw in, "You have wolf spiders, too." Thanks, neighbor. Wolf spiders are harmless, but they look like tarantulas. And they jump.
So now you understand why the very first thing I did after closing on my new house was meet up with my new heroes, spider man Jamel Sandidge and his colleague Jason, at Brown Recluse Solutions . Before I go any further, let me be clear: I'm eco-girl. I don't like bugs but I'm the kind of person who usually either makes peace with them (little ants) or tries to keep them at bay with low-impact products (such as boric acid). Even though brown recluse spiders scare the dickens out of me (did I mention they're known to bite people in their sleep?), I did not want to douse them with chemicals that would pollute the air and hurt me and the kitten I hope to pick up from the shelter as soon as I'm settled.
So I called Jamel, the man who holds a PhD in BR mitigation.
Jamel greeted me with a wide smile and headed right down to the unfinished basement. He emerged with an exoskeleton in his hand and announced, "You have them. Not a large active population, but some." That was the moment I wanted to say, "Please use whatever nuclear device is required to eradicate them!" Instead, I peered at the spider's casing (marveling at its small size) and said, "So how can we get rid of them kindly and gently?" Jamel explained the brown recluse is a prehistoric spider and the best lines of defense are ones that have been used for ages. The treatment involved precision dusting (not carpet bombing) of select areas with naturally derived compounds from chrysanthemum flowers and botanical extracts, as well as the elimination of brown recluse egg sacs in the attic and the basement. "Kill the babies," Jamel said. "Yes, please," I said weakly.
I was as thrilled as I could have been with the treatment. If I have to exterminate, I want to use substances cooked up in nature, not a lab. I know we have experienced better living through chemistry, but I'm also well aware of the host of products we use in our home that contribute to poor air quality. That's air quality that the EPA has determined is twice as polluted as outdoor air in certain areas. (I'll talk more about this next week.) The goal, Jamel said, is "to get rid of the problem, not the people." Exactly.
Jamel took me (i.e., made me go) downstairs and showed me the unusual loose webs BRs cast, explaining the whiter the silk, the newer the web. He then pointed to a cricket and said, "You also have camel crickets. Lots of them." He explained that most insects within a house are a reflection of something going on inside the structure. In my case, it's a very damp basement. The solution? A simple dehumidifier and better sealing around window frames.
Jamel's partner Jason treated the attic (another favorite hiding place for BRs) and happily announced, "You don't have mice." Unless they eat brown recluse spiders, I'm going to consider that a good thing.