The Summer of Hell
After consulting my calendar, I realized that it has been almost five months to the day since I packed up all of my worldly possessions, left my closest friends, and moved from the heart of San Francisco to an old farmhouse miles from civilization in upstate New York.
Dave’s guest blog post shortly after my arrival was a lark, of course (I have no idea where the closest Western Union office is), but it was based on truth. For the first several months after my arrival, there was an air of desperation about most of my communiques. I don’t think anything short of being dropped by helicopter in the woods with a backpack of canned goods and a sleeping bag would have properly steeled me for what I was in for.
Looking back on the last five months, the overarching theme has been trying to hang on to my sanity. And then discovering that I never had it to begin with. What kind of lunatic moves into a haunted house in the woods? It’s the beginning of 25 percent of horror films and 10 percent of romantic comedies. I don’t know which is worse.
But I’m here now and determined to make this work, which I suppose means I have to develop the thick country skin of a BB-gun-shooting, land-defending nature enthusiast. I’m not there yet. For now, I just want to learn how to adjust to my creaky house and cohabitate in some manner (not necessarily nonviolent) with my unwelcome housemates.
But enough about my aspirations. After five months of country life, here are my main findings:
I’ll kill anything
One of the first phone calls I made upon my arrival, before any furniture arrived, or home repairs were initiated, was to call in a reputable exterminator. Aside from ample evidence that my home was once overrun by rodents, there was also ample evidence that wasps, spiders, roaches, ants, flies, mosquitoes, gnats, moths, you-name-it were going to be a problem. Week to week as the weather shifted, one creature after the next became my enemy du jour. During the first few weeks of my minimalist stay in my country home, when I was sleeping on a twin mattress in an empty house, a creature was crawling and scratching somewhere in the walls, the attic, on the roof, I don’t know. We still haven’t caught or identified him. He comes back every once in a while to taunt me, to remind me that he’s out there, free.
Every single day, I’m stalking some small bug or insect through my house with a magazine, a fly swatter, or a Dirt Devil (which works really well with weak bugs, but the sturdier ones live through it, so if you use that method, be prepared for them to leap out at you when you empty the filter). While I’m killing said bugs, I suddenly become Samuel L. Jackson in ... any Samuel L. Jackson film. “Motherfucker, don’t run from me. I will take you out one way or another.” Let me be blunt: this isn’t me being cute. I’m in a full-blown bug-induced rage and I want that fucker flattened against a window or ripped apart in a vacuum’s vortex.
My general feeling about these tiny murders is that anything that wanders into my house that is both (a) smaller than my foot, and (b) not purchased by me from a pet shop, needs to go. I’ll kill anything. Sometimes I let a spider slip by just because it will take out a few more flies or gnats before meeting its own end.
Recently I was on the phone with my editor when I saw something new. At first I thought it was a tiny bumble bee, and I started to feel my blood pressure rise.
“It’s a ladybug,” I said, a little disappointed. “Can I kill it?”
“No,” my editor said. “It’s bad luck.”
“Fine, I’ll let it live,” I said, disappointed.
I spared that one, but I hear they come in with a vengeance in fall. I doubt the rest will be so lucky.
Now I’ve got a grasshopper problem. They come into my office. They're loud. They make a clicking noise that can keep you up at night. Since they’re creatures that have been successfully anthropomorphized—and since they’re too big to kill tidily—my first reaction was to try to shoo them outside. The first one didn’t go peacefully or easily and I had to use the Devil on it and I felt kind of yucky inside. But I’m over it. The other day, when another grasshopper invaded my office, I killed it and didn’t feel a thing. Sorry, Jiminy. You were always too square for me anyway.
Nature is loud
When I first arrived, I was talking to a neighbor about bird feeders and stuff, and at one point she said to me, “Who doesn’t like birds?” I nodded my head politely, realizing that I really, really don’t like birds. Later, when I was talking to my uncle, he mentioned that I should get a bird feeder. “Why would I get a bird feeder?” I snapped. “I’m not a goddamn ornithologist!”
I don’t understand why everybody in the country wants to lure birds to their property so they’ll build disgusting nests all over the place and make a racket at the break of dawn. Birds are worse than lousy neighbors because you can’t knock on their door and ask them politely to be quiet, and then threaten them if that doesn’t work, and finally call the cops. One bird was single-handedly responsible for the longest stretch of sleep deprivation in my life, which lasted from early May to mid-July. It’s gone now, having flown south or died of natural causes. I had nothing to do with it, okay?
Not all birds are bad. I have an intellectual respect for the turkey vulture, for example. Given all the road kill in these parts, we’d be in trouble without them. I had to adjust to road kill quickly. The only thing I can’t quite wrap my head around is the turtle road kill. I always feel like maybe the turtle had just seen enough.
I need to find a really awesome handyman
Sometimes animals die on the road and sometimes they die in a creek in your backyard. If you’re me, when that happens, you call Dave, my one-time co-author, and tell him about it, because not much exciting happens in these parts. When it does you really have to tell someone and also you want to know how the hell you’re going to get a rotting deer out of your creek.
Dave acted like it was no big deal. He told me that the county had to have some kind of dead-animal removal service and I should just call the public health department. I will admit that I was calmed by our chat. I promptly went online and got the number and made the call.
“Carcass removal services, please.”
I was transferred, which seemed like a good sign.
A man answered, and I explained my predicament. He listened sympathetically and didn’t interrupt.
“Unless it’s on the road and a traffic hazard, I’m afraid we can’t help you.”
"I see,” I said.
“Because a dead animal isn’t a health hazard.”
“It’s nature, you see.”
“Do you know of any businesses that specialize in dead animal removal?”
“No, I’m not familiar with any. You could call a handyman.”
I don’t know any handymen I could ask to don a full rubber suit with goggles to wade into my creek and pull out a decaying deer covered in flies.
“If you were me,” I asked, “what would you do?”
“I would let nature take its course.”
“About how long will it take nature to take its course?” I asked.
“Two weeks, give or take,” he said.
“It’s going to smell a lot, isn’t it?”
“Yes. You’re going to want to stay out of the vicinity.”
Unfortunately the vicinity included my house.
“Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”
When in Rome, or whatever. I decided to let the circle of life do its thing and braced myself for the odors of decay that would mar the next few weeks.
The next morning, I woke up and looked out my window and the deer was gone. Like-it-had-never-been-there gone. A few turkey vultures lingered like forlorn guests at a spent buffet, but there was nothing left.
Being a city girl, I figured some hunters must have come at night and stolen the deer for its antlers. Later, my neighbor told me it was coyotes. And for the first time in five long months I thought, nature, you don’t suck.