I was just settling my kids at the table for a meal when the doorbell rang and we opened it to yet another solicitor (I am too old fashioned to host the unfriendly appearance of a “no soliciting” sign on our porch yet). He was a friendly enough gentleman, beaming with youth and ambition, referring to a neighbor by their first and last names and how they had purchased the product for sale. He was quick to eye the tiny wasp nest newly under construction twenty feet up within the vestibule and even quicker to mention how many neighbors had benefited from a blanket treatment of spraying and granules on and around their home, granules that “go down very deep into the soil, getting everything.” No more pesky wasps, ants, grubs. Had I been seeing many wasps in my back yard? His voice began to fade in my mind as my heart began to race a bit. Passages from an old read, Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” began to haunt me, and I thought he’ll probably never read this book. We should all read this book. DDT was frightening and that policy changed, and our neighborhoods may have some of the once obliterated songbirds back, but I am not feeling any better about our current state of affairs.
“No, thank you. We don’t have an issue with the wasps. They really don’t bother us.”
“Are you sure? When does your husband get home…”
“No, thank you. We really aren’t interested.”
I noticed my seven year old daughter quietly sitting on the stairs observing the entire conversation. I shut the door with a heavy heart. It’s difficult at times raising little ones and keeping a balance of compassion for your fellow neighbors, their personal needs, and the lack of awareness that permeates our communities. Did this gentleman know about the dead zones forming in the gulf (NOAA Forecasts Very Large ‘Dead Zone’ for Gulf of Mexico)? Do my neighbors? That all things flow to the sea? And if you’re willing to think bigger, return to us?
I had witnessed the before and after of a red tide algae bloom off the coast of Florida in my past life SCUBA adventures, and it still cuts me to the core. One day the ocean floor was teeming with life, color and beauty – my favorite moment spent buoyantly eye to eye with a little goby peering out of its home on the sandy floor. On my next visit only a bed of milky slime like a scene from the film “Alien,” multitudes of dead fish and other creatures pinned to the sea bottom by that slime, eyes vacant, a wasteland with only a few frogfish left gasping for what bit of air remained. I was left to wonder where all the sea turtles and larger life had gone. I had heard that dead sea turtles were seen washing up on shore. I know now that the zones are mostly attributed to fertilizer runoff and phosphate mining pollutants, but surely these blanket pesticide applications do not help either, especially with their toxicity to fish. The red tide blooms have only worsened since my SCUBA diving days. (See Pesticides and Aquatic Animals: A Guide to Reducing Impacts on Aquatic Systems from Virginia Cooperative Extension Publications for an extensive list of the types of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in use, their properties, and details on their level of risk to aquatic and other life).
My daughters and I had just started a pollinator count in our garden last month only counting a single bee after multiple attempts and the native bees just seem nonexistent (The Great Sunflower Project – https://www.greatsunflower.org/), and there is a shared understanding why. We are grateful to see the wasps hunting for caterpillars on our plants, to see beetle larva in the soil, hear the cicadas humming in the trees. My five year old was just celebrating their singing at the park this morning. She knows their hum begins with the kites’ arrival, and this means her birthday is coming very soon (born a day shy of the summer solstice).
In the end, we are hoping that people just remain too cheap to purchase these blanket pesticide services, or at least too concerned with the effects on their own health. And in the meanwhile we talk about… the repercussions of blanket pesticides vs. spot treatments. Learning to say, “no, thank you” to truly frivolous services. Alternatives to removing insects in your yard. Harmful ants vs. benign and even helpful ants. Educating oneself and asking lots and lots of questions. And namely, we celebrate biodiversity.
If you’d like to read more about renowned author and researcher Rachel Carson, this is a beautifully written biographical article about her in the New Yorker Magazine: The Right Way to Remember Rachel Carson by Jill Lepore.