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Insects are trying to take me out!

by Richard Mason | October 10, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.
Richard Mason, columnist, El Dorado

Well, I know you're wondering about that crazy title, but I have the facts to prove it.

Of course, with Global Warming, L. A. (Lower Arkansas) is rapidly becoming sub-tropical, and I think that will give us more and bigger insects.

Tthe first group of insects that have it in for me are chiggers. Of course, chiggers are abundant throughout the South and my favorite Southern Author, Rick Bragg, who also writes a column for the last page of Southern Living magazine, recently had an entire column on chiggers. Writer Bragg says you can get chiggers on a blacktop highway in the South, and I believe him. I spend several hours a week trimming and picking up limbs around our property, and this year chigger attacks almost made me give El Dorado the title of Chigger City.

Vertis and I are being eaten alive by chiggers. I double-checked our bed to be sure we didn't have bedbugs, and then I came to the conclusion that I was a chigger carrier, and Vertis caught chiggers from me. I know that's sounds a little strange, but I can guarantee she didn't get her bites from working in the yard.

I'm kinda like Typhoid Mary. Yes, I'm Chigger Richard. I don't think if you shake hands with me you will get COVID because I've been vaccinated, but I may pass on a few chiggers.

I don't think anyone has ever died from being bitten by a chigger, but I'll bet there are a few Southerners who aren't playing with a full deck after a summer of scratching chigger bites.

Of course, today we have numerous creams to hold down the itching, but we didn't always have all that stuff. Growing up in Norphlet, it wasn't the chigger bites or wasp stings I dreaded, it was my doctoring grandmother who lived with us.

I had to suffer though chewing tobacco and snuff juice being put on a bite of any kind, and I was nearly was nearly strangled from the smell when I tried to rob a wild bee tree for some honeycomb. Of course, I wasn't dumb enough, even at the age of 14, to try and rob a bee tree without a mask and gloves. After finding the bee tree I spent nearly fifteen minutes making a bee-proof sack mask with wax paper taped over the eyes area where I could see out, and with a pair of my daddy's work gloves on, it was up that bee tree.

Heck, everything was going great, and I had started to pull out a big honeycomb, when a bee got in my bee-proof sack mask and stung me on my lip. Yeah, I whacked the bee and the sack came apart. It was the time to take off running, but since I was twenty feet up in the tree, it took a while to get down, and I had so many stings on my uncovered head that I lost count.

No, the stings didn't nearly kill me, it was the folk mixture grandma smeared on the stings. For about a week I was like Moses parting the Red Sea when I would walk into the room, and I could hear folks muttering, "What's that I smell."

But it isn't just chiggers, wasps, and bees; it's also ticks, mosquitos, and what I call deer flies, and horse-flies. Of course, grandmother had a fool proof way to keep all kinds of bugs and flies from biting you. She would take rags soaked with kerosene tie them around both of my ankles. I think maybe it did work on insects because it really did work around people.

Doc Rollinson, the newspaper stand owner, made me sort my papers outside if I had the fresh rags on, and even if I took them off they had still dripped enough stuff that even after a washtub bath, I smelled as if I had rolled in something bad.

But back to why I think the insects are trying to take me out.

Heck, I can stand the chiggers, but before I even had time to scratch, I was attacked three times by some really vicious, huge red wasps.

L.A. red wasps are like, there are watermelons and then there are "Hope Watermelons," and the farther south in L.A. you go the bigger the red wasps are and the more chiggers and other insects we have.

There may be an Arkansas athletic team needing a mascot, and if you really want strike fear into the opposing team, call yourselves The Stinging Red Wasps. You know, like The Charging Wildcats. You probably haven't met a real charging wildcat, but if you haven't been nailed by a stinging red wasp, you probably ain't from these here parts, and if you are from, say, Johnsonville, and you line up against the Stinging Red Wasps from Pine Ridge, you might get a little shaky when the hometown crowd starts chanting, "Sting 'Em Wasps!"

Kinda like the Winslow Squirrels, when they had a football team. "Squirrels! Squirrels! Get Those Nuts!"

Until this year, I thought if you leave the wasps alone they wouldn't bother you, but this year's bunch with nests around our house seem to be a different more deadly variety. I'm calling them the Delta Red Wasps, and they will attack if you are within ten feet of their nest.

We have a pergola by our backyard pond about 20 yards from our back deck, and since it's shady and we have a ceiling fan there, in the late afternoon I take something to drink and relax from a busy day. The summer had just started when I walked down toward the pergola with our customary drinks, one in each hand, and as I passed a birdhouse on a post on the way down there I suffered the first attack of the season.

Yes, these Delta Red Wasps had taken over the birdhouse.

I lost both drinks, and took a sting over my right ear.

Then, a couple of days later, another massive swarm roared out from a crack in a wooden fence, and I took two hits. A day later I was attacked again right out of our kitchen door. I was stung again so close to where the second bunch nailed me that I thought my arm was going to drop off.

Okay, enough about red wasps, 'cause plenty of other Arkansas insects can deal you quite a bit of misery.

This week I was trimming some vines out of the azaleas, and I thought my ankle was on fire. I looked down and I had one foot on a fire ant mound. Thousands of fire ants had covered my running shoe, leg and ankle. The next day my lower leg looked as if I had been hit with birdshot.

Yeah, fire ants live up to their name, and my lower right leg looked as if it had been on fire.

But, I love living in sub-tropical L.A., so I put up with the biting and stinging insects of summer, knowing I won't have hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes to contend with.

Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]

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