Bugs vs. Us: Guess Who Wins

adult mosquito

adult mosquito

By Gretchen Gibbs

One of the things I liked to do best as a young girl was to lie in the tall grass. I liked staring up at the clouds. I liked the sweet taste of the grasses when you pulled the grain awn out of its socket and sucked on the white stem. I liked to eat the buttercups and sorrel as well. The smell of red clover today is enough to make me gasp in remembrance of things past. There was the hum of insects, the song of birds in the distance, and the sense of escape from the world.

I liked lying in the grass as an adolescent as well. My boyfriend and I “didn’t have no place to go,” as Joni Mitchell put it. We went on endless walks through the local fields and forests. We tried various locales, but tall grasses were the best for keeping us hidden. The worst thing that ever happened to us was a bad case of poison ivy, which we had to keep secret from our parents because of the body parts involved. 

Nowadays I would no more dream of lying in the tall grass, especially without my clothes, than of entering a lion’s den. Ticks are everywhere, and even when I take precautions on a walk, I may find several on me when I return. My cat brings them into the house, so even there I am not completely safe. In addition to Lyme disease, there are now three or four additional kinds of illness carried by the deer tick, as well as others carried by the larger dog tick.

Both The New Yorker and The New York Times have recently published articles on chronic Lyme disease, and the difficulties in treating it. I have several friends who have had Lyme four or five times, and one friend who has the chronic variety, which she is treating with Chinese herbs. I had a patient who was referred for depression, and who turned out to have chronic Lyme, with any depression secondary to the illness.

Then of course there are mosquitoes, and what they carry: malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis, yellow fever, and other viruses, with West Nile being the most recent scare. The ubiquitous flea, with which my cat is covered despite how much toxic chemical from the vet I spread on him, also transmits many viruses dangerous to humans. These include, of course, plague, an outbreak of which occurred not long ago in the southwest.  

This year we have the 17-year cicada hordes, not disease causing, but certainly a nuisance. How about the current curse of bedbugs, such that many people are afraid to travel because they will have to open their suitcases in that hotel room frequented by who knows whom. Even libraries are having to take precautions against bedbugs. Some schools are reporting an epidemic of lice. On the other hand, our insect friends the fireflies, Monarch butterflies, and bees are on the decline.

What I am saying is that our relationship to nature has changed, and I think it is largely because of insects. It may be that we simply know more about insects – in the Middle Ages, nobody knew what caused the Black Plague. But I think it is the bugs themselves. They have existed for millions of years, adapting to whatever environment presented itself, and they seem to have got the hang of twenty first century civilization. (I am not even mentioning the insects of the Third World.) Insects have conquered us. They win. I have to stop writing now so I can put on long socks, covered by long pants, with rubber bands around the ankles, and a long sleeved shirt. I have to mow the lawn. Got to keep those grasses down.  


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One Response to “Bugs vs. Us: Guess Who Wins”

  1. Michael Kaufman Says:

    Nice to see your byline at Zest again, Gretchen. I’d write more but I need my hands free to scratch a few itchy insect bites.

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