I have just returned to the South, after two months in the West helping my mom in the wake of my dad’s death. Getting home is bittersweet and exciting, but also something of shock. Though the South and the West have much in common, in terms of how much both regions are shaped by their land and climate, by how much that land gets under your skin — in the South, it’s a bit more literal.
Like chiggers, for instance. Or the unforgettable burn of re-encountering a fire ant — two things I never knew existed until I moved here. Or 90% humidity, which means that if anything sits still for more than half an hour, something green grows on it. And something four-legged or six-legged walks across it, chased by something four-legged or eight-legged.
Dodging through the toads and frogs playing happily in the garage, my son dove for a bathroom that hadn’t been used in over 8 weeks, his urgency spurred by the last 6 hours without a break in the car in our hurry to get home.
“Mom! Come here!” Desperation tinged the voice.
“There’s a spider in here!”
“That’s okay. Spiders are our friends. They eat the truly icky bugs. No worries!”
“Mom! Stop driveling — this is a spider!!”
And not just a spider.
From the faucets in the shower to the towel rack to the toilet paper roll to the floor, there was a whole cycle-of-life thing going on, with egg sacks and the remains of many meals. And in the midst of this sticky and intricate piece of architecture, a spider the size of a dinner plate. She looked outraged.
Who me, exaggerate?
I mean, I’d been encountering angry spiders for the past month in the West, as I disrupted basement webs that had been decades in the making. But the sheer density, scope, and speed of this spider’s sticky kingdom was impressive.
That’s what has always hit me about the South, as a transplanted Westerner: the sheer density of life here. Out West, you can see for hundreds of miles . . . and sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be another soul sharing that space with you. Even the animals keep a low profile. Sure they are there, but you have to look for them. In the South? Even the roadkill has seasons. See 7 dead squirrels on your way home from work? It must be March. 20 possums? April. 3 deer? May. 5 raccoons? The random armadillo or snake? You get the picture.
But the good thing about the South is that a lot of these things eat each other. My husband has long been the “critter man” in our neighborhood, particularly in regard to snakes. Most Southerners just seem to reach for the shovel or the shotgun when they spot a snake, on the off-chance that it might be poisonous or good eating. The kids in the neighborhood run into our yard, hollering out that Mike needs to come, fast. Most of the time it’s been a king snake or rat snake, which he picks up, letting the admiring kids pet it for awhile before bringing it home to release down the chipmunk holes under our blueberries.
We fight a constant battle with chipmunks. We love blueberries. The nasty little disease-carrying rodents like to tunnel in the roots and kill the bushes. Snakes help us even the score.
I know, I know. They’re “cute.” I don’t care. I hate rodents. I won’t even use a mouse on my computer.
But when I was climbing the ladder to put the suitcases back up in the attic, I was horrified to come eye-to-eye with a network of tunnels in the insulation that rivaled the web in the kids’ bathroom for scope and energy. And next to almost every damned hole was a temptingly baited mouse trap — unsprung and insouciantly ignored.
“Damn,” I said, after I screamed when a piece of loose insulation drifting on the hot, humid breeze made by opening the trap door landed on my arm. “What we need up here is a couple of good snakes.”
“I mean it. Which would you rather have in the walls? Mice, or snakes that eat mice?”
Luckily, though, while we were gone, my husband seems to have been able to get rid of the mice in the attic. No scritching noises disturbed my sleep last night. Don’t think he used a snake, though, at least not in the house.
It is good to be home.
© Sharon D. McCoy, 18 July 2013