The Season that Stings

In my QiGong class this week my teacher warned us that this change of season from bright days to dark ones often affects the human psyche, and that with this transition old and new griefs and disappointments surface. Of course, the approaching dark days have been associated with decay and death by artists, poets and songwriters since art, poetry and songs were invented. We lead lives of plenty but are not unaware on some level of the shadows of the past when winter might mean disaster or starvation.

Plants have a different view. They show off their beauty shamelessly in the fall.

Gauguin 1885

Bright red, yellow and orange leaves cover trees throughout most of the country. My trees don’t change their foliage but I have hundreds of flowers in bloom in my southern garden, roses, dahlias, salvias, sunflowers–all enjoying the rain, shorter days and cooler weather. Plants embrace the coming winter with grace.

Unlike the bugs. All of the sudden, bugs, both insects and arachnids are everywhere, aggressive, insistent on wringing the most they can out of the ending year. Huge green beetles, little black beetles, dung beetles, flies, mosquitoes, fire ants and a new visitor to my farm: chiggers.

I have had perhaps twenty inches of rain over the past few weeks and the chiggers love it. Adult chiggers are benign. They are , broadly speaking, vegetarians and dine on insects like mosquitos. Baby chiggers, the larvae, are bad, really bad. Chigger larvae crawl from wet places onto humans, then like to make their way to warmth; for example, an armpit.

chigger larvae–1/5 the size of the periods in my sentences.

They don’t bite or suck blood, but puncture the skin with little mouth blades and inject their saliva which liquifies human skin. Then they eat it. Disgusting. These stupid ‘bites’ last for days and I have had to give up the pleasure of wearing flip-flops and shorts to the mailbox or the barn. Shoes, socks and long pants topped off with bug spray are recommended. link

I was planting carrots last week dutifully clad in big shoes and socks and long pants, imagining I had rid the vegetable garden of fire ants. Twenty or more of these horrible creatures climbed the shoes and socks, went inside my pants and positioned themselves on the back of my legs. Of course, if one ant bit me as soon as it cleared the sock, I would have moved out of the anthill and gotten rid of the threat. But all twenty or more crawled up for the attack. THEN, they sent the signal: “bite now!” I like to think they use little iphones. However, there are two good things about fire ants: first, they don’t record pictures of the gardener being bitten and post the pictures on u-tube; and second, they eat chiggers.

The next day, I put on my big rubber boots that go almost to my knee. The ants can’t climb them, but a bee had sheltered in one of the boots overnight and stung me for interrupting her sleep.

Then the wind changed in my favor.

The southeast breeze was replaced by a cold north wind. The temperature dropped from 87 to 42 degrees in an afternoon. Icy rain poured down– sending all the bees to gather around their queens and keep them warm. The ants crawled underground to get out of the rain. And the cold rid me of the mosquitos and the chiggers. Every season has its blessings.

I still have to wear shoes.


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