Life on James Island: Can everything just stop biting and stinging me now?!

by Sandra Stringer

Life on James Island is beautiful, but every rose has its thorn. I went to the allergist this week and had this conversation:

Doctor: “What’s this on your leg?”

Me: “Probably a spider bite.”

Doctor: “Yes, it certainly presents as a spider bite.” (Translation: “Looks like a spider bite to me.”)

Battle gear for my nemeses

There are woods behind my house and across the street. What that means is…so many bitey sting-y creatures. Spiders are really the least of my worries. It’s been over a decade since my last spider bite before this one, but I’ve been bitten by mosquitoes approximately fifty times in the past week alone.

I could douse myself in DEET every time I leave the house even for a minute, but reeking all the time is no fun either. I could wear a Hazmat suit whenever I stepped foot outside, but it’s a bit warm for that, especially given my body’s charming habit of shutting down on me completely if I get too hot.

For gardening and mowing, of which I do quite a bit, covering myself in bug spray would only work briefly. Due to the aforementioned sensitivity to heat, every half hour or so I have to hose myself down completely. So…most recently I have taken to wearing long pants, long sleeved shirt, and gloves.

Recently there have been reports in the Beaufort area of mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile Virus. If that happens here, my gardening days will likely be over until November.

Not just for mosquitoes!

Since I make sure I’m soaking wet most of the time during outside chores, being completely covered in clothes isn’t as bad as you might think. Except for the first hosing down event, after which I look like I just wet my pants. That’s a little embarrassing.

At any rate, other than the occasional dive bomb attack to my face (which left me with a swollen lip on Saturday), I’m pretty well covered. Unless I walk through a fire ant pile.

There’s actually a few varieties of biting ants around here. Some will cause you to scream and run for the hose when you’re raking leaves or moving dead wood. Others are your standard well-hidden-in-the-grass-I’m-fixin’-to-mow variety. Those lead to hilarious dancing, because they’re crawling up your leg in order to gain a better biting position.

Once you’ve finished the cleanup and marveling at the already rather grim looking welts, you go get the ant poison and do your public duty. I consider it very bad manners to leave an ant pile for any kid to accidentally walk through, so I get that done.

Wasps! Come on, you don’t have those too!

We have a couple of different sorts of wasps around here. There’s the guys who really like the ceiling of your porch. You know, the place where you like to sit and sip a mint julep and watch the sunset sky over the trees? I don’t do that, because mosquitoes, but I hear it’s a thing.

Everyone I know here has a can of wasp spray under their kitchen sink. It’s a fantastic thing, because it will shoot out its wasp-killing brew 20 feet! Powerful! Also, if you ever need one in a pinch, it’s a really brutal weapon if someone breaks into your house.

Personally, I won’t mess with a wasp nest unless it’s in a well traveled area like my porches. Wasps are actually as useful as bees in the pollination department, and generally won’t mess with you unless they think you’re in their territory or threatening them. Often, I’m more interested in making the nest inhospitable than I am in killing the wasps. Just get of my porch, guys. Just get off my porch.

Hidden horrors beneath the surface

We also have ground wasps here, and in my mind they are the absolute worst. I’ve only been on the receiving end of their stings once four or five years ago. One time was enough. Their sting HURTS. Like, screaming pain that feels like a tiny knife being thrust into your flesh. This is not a good feeling and you should perhaps avoid this experience.

My advice? If you see what look like bees with yellow and black bodies circling around a little patch of earth, that is their home turf, and you mess with it at your own peril. I’m not even sure what you use against them. A flame thrower maybe? No idea. I just know that’s one place not to dig.

Luckily they were in a place that I really could leave alone and that kids were highly unlikely to walk through, but I did actually put a little sign there. It read: GROUND WASPS! BEWARE! I could have gone into detail, but people are pretty respectful of those sorts of signs here. Apparently, fear of wasps is fairly common.

Coda

My James Island home is my dream house, and so I do the mowing and gardening and pruning, and I feel very house proud as one does. I’ve always been a bit of a baby about being out in nature and getting injuries of any kind. But actually getting outside and working in the heat with the bugs and the dirt has ended up being very good for my heart and mind.

The process itself is meditative – I just don’t think about my job or really anything other than the task at hand when I’m doing yard work – and the process of getting bruised and bitten and ridiculously hot every year has gradually made me ever so slightly tougher and less whiny about it. Not totally, mind you, but there is a slight improvement.

Gardening will stop soon. There comes a point, usually in July, when I give up on weeding, because we’ve had a little of the “ridiculously hot” but soon there will be “in the frying pan” or “standing on the surface of the Sun”.

This is my first year with mowing in the mix of chores, and I suspect I will just keep up with that job every weekend until October. October, when the biting things start to go away.

I’m always ready for October.

Oh, and Mom, you were right! Working outside, even if just mowing the grass, is best done in long pants and the very nice long shirt you bought especially for me. If I had done that two weeks ago, I probably wouldn’t have gotten that spider bite or the interesting patches of contact dermatitis on my arm. So…thank you Mom. You’re the best, smartest Mom of all the Moms!

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2 thoughts on “Life on James Island: Can everything just stop biting and stinging me now?!

  1. Oh Sandra! Beautiful résumée of the love-hate relationship with some of the critters that rule our lovely landscapes (not to mention chiggers, sand flies, poisonous snakes, stinging jellyfish and gators!). Still, the call of the wild beats out breathing only clammy AC during our steamy summertime. Keep hydrated and garden on!

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