Insectivore — that’s a word that commands my attention, and maybe yours.
In our culture, we don’t knowingly eat or draw sustenance from insects, bugs and crawling things. On Kauai, we can leave that to our sundew plant, a carnivore, although it exists only in specialized areas. Those of us who live here are more likely to “un-friend” a member of the insect kingdom by using insecticides, natural or chemical, in our home gardens.
In our homes, we’re used to practicing prevention via window screens, screened covers placed over open drains (possibly), extra measures taken for kitchen hygiene and management of stored foodstuffs, and the frenzied wielding of a slippah as an exclamation point when an unwanted guest shows up.
One of the problems we, who call the tropics home and live in houses made of wood, face is, of course, termites — the flying kind, and the stealthy ground type. One of the seeds for this column recently sprouted from seeing yet another of those gaudy, striped tents with its massive clips mushroom around a neighbor’s home before the poisonous gases preventing house destruction were pumped in — a common site in all our towns and neighborhoods. We opted to follow this route earlier in the year, exiting to another safe place for several days before venturing back inside.
As a child in India and Burma, born to the tropics, I was well acquainted with those below-ground dwelling devils known as “white ants.” My parents were always on the lookout for their sneaky destruction of wood, paper, cloth or any kind of vegetable material. Many of the various homes we lived in had only bamboo screens, or “tatties,” so without going into detail, you can bet we became accustomed to moths and other hurtling winged visitors once the lamps were lit.
We slept protected under mosquito nets. The morning routine always included cleanup/sweep out from the night before (plus a thorough snake check, something that, thankfully, we don’t have to worry about in the Hawaiian isles). Evenings, the routine included a good application all around entryways and wall crevices of DDT (horror of horrors!) via the old-style flit-pump. My husband, too, remembers similar routines in the farm country of central California. How did we ever survive such, we have sometimes wondered.
But, coming back to the idea of “woman against insects,” the other recent happening that underlies this writing is a series of mystery bites of the greatest itch factor AND the finding of centipedes, heretofore most uncommon, within our living space. One sank its leg-turned-fang into my husband’s toe while he double-checked hurricane supplies in a storage cupboard. My suffering from the repeated outcrops of bites/welts ruined some nights of good sleep and plagued me during recent humid days when the thermometer climbed into the 90s minus trade winds. Increasing misery sent me to my doctor begging his help.
Mites, eh? Bird, or chicken. The prescribed cream works, but his diagnosis did it: The person who shrugged off the attacks of fruit flies, ripped out all her bromeliads to discourage mosquitoes (actually, their larvae), and employed non-injurious (to humans) neem leaves and spray or Dawn liquid dishwashing soap potions, or even hands-on removal via a rake or trowel-chop (for crab spiders and outdoor centipedes), has now changed. My green footprint ideal is being sorely challenged, along with my leaning toward “natural” and “organic.” Friends, if you see me comparing labels in the insect prevention sections of a local store, don’t be surprised. Those who condemn pesticides in any form, please forgive me, or at least give me some allowance. (Maybe just for this El Nino year?)
The one crawling thing I will let under the screen of protection with which I’m now surrounding myself is the gecko, the noticeable lack of which I mourned after our home’s termite tenting. As said in an earlier Green Flash writing, you will not find me griping about geckos. Now, there’s a veritable bug-eating machine to be encouraged as a prime, capital “I” Insectivore for the indoors. Happily, they’re back, chirruping in the high octave range.
Outdoors, not to be overlooked as a friend to woman, there’s the shama thrush. Offer these birds a creepy-crawly on your driveway, and watch them swoop it up. They’ll appear instantly in close proximity when you dig and weed. They’ll shadow you as you compost, poised ready to zero in on any bug that dares to move. Unrelatedly, they’ll sing you shama trills that will challenge Mozart’s.
We still sleep under a mosquito net, keep whacking slippahs at hand, a see-through lid for instant trapping, plus our latest small arsenal of sprays and death-powders when real need arises. This way we and the members of the avian and arthuropod kingdom within our small world of household and garden can exist within boundaries together in a “peaceable kingdom” and, hopefully, balance each other within the tenuous web of life we share.
Dawn Fraser Kawahara and her husband Delano Kawahara, a retired biology teacher, live “with books and birds” in Wailua. She chose her business name, TropicBird, because of the white-tailed tropicbirds that inhabit the Wailua cliffs near their home. The writer is completing her second memoir, based on a family history in Burma.