Dispatch from the front lines

Michael
Michael Johansen
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I hate carpenters. I say that without apology. Everyone is welcome into my house except them. In my heart, I respect all living things - except carpenters.

When I see them away from my house, I leave them alone, but when I see one inside I act with fierce single-mindedness. I've killed four this week alone. The first time I was writing at my desk upstairs when I saw movement on the wall. I grabbed a water bottle, but it was nearly empty and far too light. Tossing it aside I looked quickly around, but saw nothing I could use as a weapon. Then, with barely a thought, I wrenched the shoe off my foot and swung it hard, smacking the heavy ant into a large smear on the pressboard.

The second time, I was washing dishes when another of the insects dashed across the counter beside the sink. This time, the soap dish served as a handy weapon. I slammed it down on the scurrying bug before it could escape over the edge.

I killed numbers three and four on the kitchen floor with the bottom of a tin cup. A fifth I found on the living room rug, already dead of natural causes.

To be clear, I have no phobias about bugs. I once lived summers on a small island that was infested with spiders. They and their webs festooned every tree, bush, dock, boat, shed, outhouse and cabin inside and out. Every night before I slept, I'd use a broom to clear them away from the blankets, the walls and the ceiling above my bed, but every morning they'd have all come back and brought their friends with them. Then, one summer, the island was almost empty of spiders. I missed them.

But I'll never miss carpenters. They simply cannot be lived with, especially if it's my historic wooden house they want to turn into an ant condominium.

The men who built it so long ago and so far away used whole spruce trees they cut from the forest to frame their two-storey home. A dozen years ago when I opened up a wall to check the state of the original moss insulation (not good), I was shocked to find a thriving colony of the carpenter ants inhabiting one of the larger trees, hollowing it out and weakening it with a labyrinthine nest.

Since their work threatened not only the wall, but the building itself, I knew they had to go - and quickly. The ants, however, fought back. I attacked the nest with every poison I had (starting with oven cleaner, but soon graduating to commercial insecticides), but even after I cut the infected wood out of the house and dragged it off my property, ants still crawled from its hidden depths, some carrying eggs in their mandibles. I killed them, too.

I imagined the problem solved. Unfortunately, a good number had survived my first and second assaults and they re-established the colony down the wall in another tree. By then, I had so much ant-blood on my hands I was inured to my acts of slaughter. I attacked the new nest without mercy, with more cutting and more poison - eradicating every sign of life I could find.

I haven't seen a carpenter ant in this house for more than a decade, but now they're back.

I don't know whether they're the descendents of the original colony that somehow managed to hide away all these years, or migrants split off from another colony somewhere else. I'm hoping it's the latter, since that nest would be newer and probably somewhat smaller than the other.

So, war has been declared.

I believe I've found the enemy stronghold under the double windows in the front wall. I've assembled my weapons: a saw, a hammer, a chisel, a fresh can of ant poison and my shopvac. The campaign begins as soon as I'm done writing. I'm counting on victory, but for pity's sake if no one hears from me in a week, please send reinforcements.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Geographic location: Labrador

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  • Polly
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    We starve the rats, creosote the ticks, swat the flies, step on the cockroaches and poison the scales. Yet when these pests appear in human form we go paralytic. ~Martin H. Fischer