Sunday, March 16, 2008

Creepie Crawlies

Note to readers: I stumbled across this old blog post in a search engine today. It was posted in a different blog that I had started then quit two years ago. I clearly remember the incident but had totally forgotten about that old blog. For those of you who have not been to Western Oregon I need to point out that we have very few bugs. You can leave your windows open in the summer and the only thing that will come in are a couple flies or bees. We've been here 5 1/2 years and have seen only a handful of mosquitos. (Are you Wisconsonites, Minnesotans , and Illini jealous? Come and visit first, then you can hate us.) On the flip side, we do have lots of ants and slugs. Here is a story about a little problem with ants. I'll regale you with my awful slug story another time.

Do you know what it means to have the “Creepy-Crawlies?”
How about “Ants in your pants?”
Have you ever had bed bugs?

Here is the latest Adventure of Pam and Frank that defines these three terms:

It starts with the heavy, constant rains we had starting around Christmas 2005, lasting almost through Valentine’s Day 2006. While the sky drained into Oregon’s Willamette Valley (that’s where we live) streams turned into creeks, creeks became rivers, and swollen rivers flooded farmland, roads and all low-lying areas. Natives commented that they’d never seen rain like this and weathermen counted the continuous rain days (I think it rained 32 out of the last 33 days. There was no recorded precipitation on January 9th.) Meteorologists and backyard precipitologists boasted record rainfall amounts, and the man who hikes up Mt. Hood to measure the snow was thrilled to prove snow levels were three times above average.

Many, if not most, houses in the area have no basement, but instead have a crawlspace that ranges from two to three feet deep. Our house is no different. In the closet of one of the bedrooms is a small trapdoor, which leads to our crawlspace. Below the trapdoor is a sump pump sitting in a five-gallon bucket that is set in a hole in the dirt. The sump pump is plugged into a gizmo that, like a toilet float, turns the pump on when water levels get too high.

One evening, we were in the dining room, listening to the rain. It was a familiar metallic pinging as the rain hit the top of the exhaust vent over our stove hood. Ping ping ping ping… Slowly Rachel and I realized there was a new noise as well; a whirring, slurping, grinding noise. We looked at each other, the got up to find out where the noise was coming from. She ran to her bedroom, thinking it was a toy, and I followed the sound to the closet in the spare bedroom. It was the sump pump! I yelled at Rachel to have Frank come and help, then hauled stuff out of the closet and hoisted up the trap door. The sump pump was in the bucket, but silt had filled the hole and the bucket was laying on its side over the hole. The pump had sucked what little water filled the bucket, and was now sucking air. The gizmo that triggers the pump when water levels rise was stuck in the high water position. By the time I took in all that was going on under the house, Frank was there and instantly understood the situation. I unplugged the pump and the gizmo and said, “We may have a problem.”

Frank sat at the edge of the hole and tried to maneuver the bucket back into the hole but the silt was too hard and wet to yield to the bucket. We tried putting bricks in the bottom of the bucket, but since it was not fully upright the added weight just made it spin around so the bricks were on the bottom and the pump was on top. This was worse than when it started. Frank tried to crawl under the house but his long legs wouldn’t allow it. Watching him was like trying to solve the puzzle made with two bent nails that are linked together like two chain links. He tried every position but nothing would work without breaking something. He suggested I go under the house and right the pump. Nuh-uh. “You may be too big, but I’m too chicken,” I said. Se we agreed to close up the trapdoor and just plug in the pump, sans gizmo, periodically to keep water levels lower than the ductwork.

While we were aware of the water levels under the house, we kept a little nagging thought tucked deep in the back of our minds. People joke about it, but it’s pretty commonly suspected that the entire neighborhood is built on a giant anthill. Every new day I woke up I thought about the water levels and the ants. But I really didn’t worry about it. The guy on a pest-control tv commercial tells people that ants can live under water for a long time. So even though we had a little nagging thought about ants, we figured they’d ride it out.

Unfortunately, one evening at dinner, the ants must have decided they’d had enough of the wet.

Every room of the house had the textured, popcorn-type of ceiling. Including the dining room. The evening the ants decided to search for a new home, we were sitting in the dining room, having dinner and reading books, when -Plink!- Out of nowhere an ant dropped down on my book. I looked up. No ants on the ceiling. No ants on the walls. Strange.

I picked up the ant, carried him to the kitchen sink, and rinsed him down the drain. Frank and Rachel were looking at me when I returned to my seat. “An ant just fell on my book!” I exclaimed. They both looked up. No ants on the ceiling, none on the walls. Wait, no, there was one walking across Rachel’s napkin. I picked it up, carried it to the sink, and rinsed him down the drain. As I sat back down, Rachel said, “That was weird.” “Yeah,” I replied, “I wonder where they came from?” Frank shrugged and went back to reading.

After dinner we cleared the table and pulled out a board game. As Rachel set up the game I saw another ant on the table so I sent him to sink drain heaven with the others. She finished setting up while Frank scanned the dining room for the source of the ants and I examined the table for more ants. Finding nothing, the three of us sat down to whip each other’s butts in a rousing game of Sorry! Would you believe, during the course of the game, another 8 or 9 ants were whisked from the table (or from each others’ arms) to the sink? Each time we saw an ant we’d examine the area but could not find where the ants were coming from. Not knowing where in the dining room they were coming from, we didn’t know where to put the poison. (Frank calls it “nice snacks for our visiting aunts.”)

The next day I was cleaning up some Christmas stuff in the living room and went to the mantel to take down the gingerbread house Rachel had made. What I saw made me recoil and shriek. It was crawling with ants. Rachel came running and saw the house the ants decided to live in. After a frenzied but of activity, Rachel donned some latex gloves (she was as grossed out as I was), carried the gingerbread house outside, and smashed it while I made a short video of the event. Frank fed the remaining ants some nice snacks.

The next night as we sat down to supper, after doing a sweep of the room and finding nothing, we had several more ants try to join us on the table. After dinner, as Rachel set up that night’s game of Clue, I got on the floor and looked under the table to see if there was something happening under the table. I finally spied an ant on the floor near my chair. She watched as I stared at the ant, trying to see where it was going or where it was coming from. He just seemed to zigzag and wander aimlessly between my chair and the table. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted another moving dot and decided to watch that ant. He seemed to me on more of a mission than the first one (ok, actually the first one on the floor was about the 27th one in the dining room since the rain started.) I was on all fours, watching this ant meander back and forth, when all of a sudden he turned and headed straight for me! I backed up and he kept coming at me. After backing up about 4 feet I said, “This is ridiculous,” and turned around so I could follow him instead of him following me. As soon as I got behind him he turned around and started chasing me the other way. I looked at Frank and asked if he had that ant on a remote control. He laughed and said, “I only wish…” He started really examining the floor and discovered a little concentrated ant activity by long wall separating the living room from the kitchen/dining room. Frank grabbed a bottle of “nice snacks for our visiting aunts” and squeezed a few drops near the trails and sat back and watched. A few ants drowned, and the rest ignored the sticky little puddle. “Later,” he said. “They’ll be all over it later.”

We sat down to play our game and ushered a few more ants from the table to their watery kitchen sink grave.

Over the next few weeks the number of ants dwindled until the rain stopped. By that time we were down to only one or two ant sightings a day.

A week after the rains let up the temperatures started to drop below freezing again. I wondered if the ants would be back. Luckily they didn’t show up when the temps dipped below freezing.

And then last night things changed. All week I had been going to work earlier than usual and was tired early. At ten last night, when we were watching tv, I started dozing off. I got up and announced, “I’ve got to go to bed,” then dragged myself off to my room where I changed, slid into bed, and was asleep before I could even think about falling asleep. My dreams were the usual stuff, when all of a sudden I dreamt there was a kid standing over me with a feather. This kid was using the feather to tickle my face, so I grabbed the feather and threw it away. Then there was another feather, so I grabbed that, too, and threw it away. Another feather appeared behind my ear, in my hair. I grabbed that one too, and threw it away. Logic seeped into my dream as I realized that if I’m lying on my back a feather couldn’t tickle me behind the ear. Now the feather was tickling my forehead. As I grabbed the feather I felt it and was surprised to find out that it wasn’t a feather at all but a tiny dot. Like an ant. An ant! Ants in my bed!

Within a nanosecond I was standing up on the floor, wide-awake, lights blazing, and all the pillows and covers stripped off the bed. Under my pillows I counted seventeen ants. Tugging the pillows from their cases I found 6 more. Frank wasn’t in bed, so I sped to the family room, where he had fallen asleep in front of the news. After waking him up, I said, “Help. Hurry.” And I picked two more ants out of my hair. He must have thought I was sleepwalking with a nightmare because I was going bonkers.

Frank was still drowsy and out of it but he came into the bedroom, helped me round up the ants and dispose of them, then figure out where they came from. When we pulled the bed away from the wall I was shocked to see a long black line leading from the baseboard to a spot on the wall even with the height of the mattress. Frank left the room and retuned with the bottle of nice snacks and lay across the bed to drip the syrup along the baseboard. When he did that I cringed. He had stretched out across another cluster of ants. Ugh. Somehow, when he stood up, none of the ants stayed with him.

His job done, he shuffled back to the family room, took up his spot on the futon sofa in there, and went back to sleep. I returned to our room, examined the blankets – they were ant-free – made the bed taking care to let nothing touch the wall, and lay down on my stomach to watch the ants on the baseboard. They were interested in the syrup, but no full-scale feasting was going on. At least Frank’s snacks got their attention away from the bed. I checked the clock. An hour had passed since the dream about the feathers. I rolled over, switched off the light, and immediately fell asleep.

Sort of.

My body was tired but my brain was freaking out. Every nerve was feeling the teeniest sensation and there was a tickle behind my knee. I waited to feel if it traveled or stayed in one spot. Then I’d feel a tickle behind my right shoulder. Holding my breath, I’d wonder, did it move? Or is it just my mind? About fifteen minutes into this, I decided to get up and go to the bathroom. It’s a trick my brain is playing on me, I’d tell myself. There are no more ants. We got them all.

I stood up and turned around. There was one ant crawling around the seat. I shrieked.

It’s now the afternoon and while it’s gloomy outside, it hasn’t rained all day. The temperatures are in the 50s. The ants are eating up all of Frank’s nice snacks. In fact, Frank is at the store right now to get more snacks for all of our visiting aunties. While brushing my teeth in the bathroom this morning I disposed of five more ants from the walls, off the counter, and out of my makeup. I feel creeping, crawling sensations on my feet and legs, and I keep seeing dark dots moving across the desk. There are no ants in the office, where I’m sitting. At least, not right now. At least, not that I know of. It’s just my tired, freaked out brain tricking me.

I hope.

Originally posted elsewhere on Saturday February 25, 2006

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