The Stuff of Nightmares
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 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.
Off to research the best dehumidifier,