There is nothing as wonderful as a beautiful garden. It’s a dreamy notion, often depicted in paintings, cottages surrounded by a rainbow of colors and a hummingbird at the window. If you’ve ever been inclined to go that route, wanting that, seen the books on flower gardens, perused the nurseries, searching the many shrubs and bushes, fruit trees and all those natural wonders, and found yourself aching to reinvent the land around your home, you know what I mean. The delicate whimsy of bees buzzing and birds fluttering about your butterfly flowers or rose bushes draws you breathlessly into what you design to have, and for you to be one with nature. Right?
Then reality hits like a Mack truck pushed by a freight train and you with only your recyclable number 7 plastic spray bottle as a shield.
No one ever warned you about them, and when you tell others about them, those others only shrug their shoulders and say, “Seen them? Can’t say I have. What do they look like?”
What? Am I in some parallel universe parallel to everyone else? Am I the unfortunate to have chosen a home on some sacred and ancient burial ground, and am being punished for desecrating the remains with my bulbs and un-potted plants? Are these the spirits, the protectors of what lies below … or do I need just a few good monkeys to solve the problem and haven’t a means of getting that either? Sadly … it’s the latter, unhinged spirits of yester years, personally, might be more duly handled with a prayer and or séance, neither which has cured me yet of this pestilence.
When did I notice them first? I might have noticed them earlier, but paid no mind, since they hadn’t yet affected me. It was the cherry tree I believe. I’d planted it out in the backyard, already dreaming of tarts and pies, but it was almost as if they, those bronze demons, could read my dream and destroy it, their voracious appetite erasing any hope of me making Garden Magazine.
Every day was December 7th, as each day the Japanese bombed my garden. Unlike Kamikazes, who believed in some honor in what they did, these invaders had no honor … only greed, a bottomless hunger and greed for every flower or green leaf that poked its head out to say hello to the sun. What are they you ask? They are Japanese beetles. Of course if I’m in that parallel universe parallel to everyone else you’re saying, “… Wh-what are they?”
An epidemic I tell you! Bugs … grubs in the ground that grow up to be bugs that eat every blessed piece of growth you hold dear in your garden. I’d planted the young cherry tree lovingly, carried buckets of water out to it to nurture its roots, and what did they do, they took it for salad kabob and feasted on it. At wits’ end, I bought a bug spray, a bug spray that I found which actually existed in more than one universe, one, unlike the others, which said it kills Japanese beetles. The words were there. Maybe the curse was over … but no. I sprayed and sprayed that poor tree, conservative at first, but then more liberal as I found some bodies, but on the whole, the attackers still at large. The helpless tree was probably trying to figure out who was meaning to kill it first while I suffered from beetle fever and could only foresee bug carcasses or my own destruction, glossing over the tree’s health, which had been my initial concern in the first place. A newbie, I fell into the bugs’ folly. The green leaves turned brown and fell off. With nothing else for them to feed on there, they had to go elsewhere, though elsewhere was only twenty feet over to something else I was growing, but I‘d staked my claim to that victory and won, so I thought, but as I said, I was the fool in their folly, realizing too late that if they couldn’t have it, they wouldn’t allow me to have it either. It was young. The tree would rebound I presumed … and it might have if the lawnmower guy hadn’t run into it and cracked off one of its branches where a rot or mildew then took hold and flat-lined it. That was no mere accident. I’m sure there were probably a few beetles buzzing and bumping around in front of the lawnmower guy to distract him towards that direction and outcome. I live in a peaceful town, but I was at war.
“Info, info … give me info on these,” I murmured to myself as I brought up the internet. “Monkeys eat them? Well that’s the most useless information I could use. There are no bloody monkeys here unless I take a trip to the zoo, and I can’t see the warden accepting my library card as a means of taking a few out.” It seemed with no natural predators of them in the area … they were basically unstoppable and could only be hampered by the most basic of means, basic being by hand. I’d have to fill up a narrow-necked bottle with soap water and go around picking the buggers off the leaves as they ate and humped one another. “Oh that’s the most wonderful of ideas,” I said to myself, looking to kick someone in the butt, but not having a rear-end near. “What’s a few million of them to pick? I’m healthy and medicine has improved, unless I get hit by a car I have a good chance of another forty to fifty years to get the job done.” At this point I’d become double-jointed and was kicking my own buttocks. When my rump was sore enough, I grabbed an old cranberry juice bottle from the recyclables, squirted some dish detergent in it, added water, and, mumbling, made my way out to the backyard and started picking. The little buggers were smart enough to torment me, but too stupid to figure out how to fly out of the open top of the bottle, which had me wondering if I could claim handicap assistance for being a moron and have the state send me some aides to the house so that I could put them to work picking these bugs instead of me.
Desperation leads to inspiration … or else something really stupid. I’m sure Confucius said this, and though Chinese, he must have met a Japanese fellow along the way who kept this saying in the family, and who is probably related to a good portion of these bugs, who were quite familiar with the intel and were using it against me.
Day after day I picked those bugs and had a soup of them in the bottle. Lord, they stunk to hi heaven. Even in death they’d resorted to chemical warfare against me. I laughed insanely with an idea, and moved the bottle away before I puked. Like Vlad Dracula, who had impaled his victims, I was likewise going to send a message. I shook the foul liquid over some plants, squashed a few beetle bodies, and then stuck their miniature carcasses around on edible territory. If there was a Japanese beetle nightmare … this had to be it.
To my grief though, the next day I found them munching out, like at a street café, with their Uncle Willie’s corpse leaking its innards only an antenna-length away. If the wind had shaken the body, I’m sure the diminutive monsters would have also pleasured themselves with the corpse. I mean that’s all they do, eat and ride piggyback on one another, the horny and hungry little ba…! Sorry.
“What else can I do?” I asked myself. I’d read something about garlic and mild soap water, and as a deterrent, spraying the plants with it. I wanted my life back; I’d try it. Not being totally stupid, in some way trying to refute Confucius’ wisdom, I squirted a mist of my concoction only on one plant’s one leaf to see if I didn’t kill it. Not being stupid in restraining myself in doing that, the next day I found that that one leaf had shriveled and browned, and was now barely holding on to the rest of the plant. “What the hell,” I thought. Confucius was laughing at me. Apparently dish detergent was not a mild soap. I’d been struck by beetle fever again. It cuts grease. Why wouldn’t it cut the life out of a delicate little plant? I don’t know; I’m stupid. One more for Confucius and the bugs, and still … none for Roger … and let’s not hold our breaths.
You have to understand this is an annual tribulation. They used to show up at the start of July and were gone by the first week of August. Then they started showing up in June and have been seen as late as September dadadadada. Dadadadada is the rambling of September’s days going by. Why don’t we just round it up to October, why don’t we? Why? Because I don’t think I could take it!!! … Sorry.
I have the prettiest of roses, but they might as well be daylilies or half-a-day-lillies. The cops should hire these Jap bugs to find hidden marijuana plants, because the way they go at these rose blooms, they’ve got to have smoked it and are suffering from a severe case of the munchies.
I made another attempt at raising a fruit tree when my wife and I found a plum sapling for twenty five dollars at a nursery. It had to be about 8 feet high. It hung out of the car’s trunk, praying we didn’t hit a small pothole or it would have lost some leaves and procured a significant skid burn from the road. It was that low. The plum must have wondered what the hell it had gotten into with this, and was searching its pockets for our twenty five back and ten dollars for good measure and the gas. Unfortunately for it … it had no pockets, but heck, we wanted it and were going to make this relationship work. I saw pies and tarts again, and Garden Magazine. I was being a positive thinker … good for me … selfish bastard.
No … no, I wasn’t. I was thinking of the plant. I was. This family would work. I’d deciphered a means to a defense against my continual December 7th. This plum tree would not be invaded. It would not. My wife had a four-cornered tent with mesh, which I’d given her, but whose supports had been damaged in a wind storm. I would drape the mesh, like a veil, over the tree. The openings would be too small for the beetles to get through, and I’d tie up the bottom so that that entrance below would be closed off also. The tree could see out while those bugs could not get in. It could work.
I planted the tree just behind the garage, and put my idea into practice. “By jove,” I thought, “Roger, you’ve got it in folds.”
The siege on the rest of the yard went on as usual. I’d grown to accept what I couldn’t prevent. The war was lost, but if I could have this one battle, perhaps it could open a floodgate of possible new ways to sway the war in my favor, change the outcome for future saplings. Day in and day out I checked the collapsed-tent veil, searching for any beetle that had managed to squirm its way in, and day after day I witnessed success, not theirs, amazingly, but mine. The mesh had been impenetrable and the tree was alive when the beetles had finally gone for good that season. Like a groom anxious to kiss his bride, I removed the mesh veil from the plum tree and rejoiced. “Ha! Take that Confucius!” I cried, full of myself.
Now … not many people if any would call Confucius wrong about anything. His wisdom is held in high esteem. So who was I to think Confucius and his Japanese friend and his Japanese friend’s beetle offspring were wrong? Let me answer by telling you this. The next day the plum tree’s leaves weren’t so green as the day before … and the next day found them even less. Before the week was out they had all browned and some had fallen in despair like dropped thirty five dollars in bills, an in vain attempt at survival that had failed. It seemed that the mesh of the tent, which had covered the tree and sheltered it, had been sprayed with a sun repellant to protect anyone inside from getting burnt. If I had known, I could have gradually reacquainted the plum tree to the sunlight until it was used to it again, but I hadn’t, and the tree had gone into shock and burned. I wept, but even if I had known, they would have known I’d known … and found another way. Out of anything, this I knew. There were just so many of them with so many feet … and them, so many steps in front of me.
Wait! Wait! Hold on! I’ve just seen them. They’ve got Japanese beetle traps! Who’d have guessed?! My universe and the universe you all reside in have collided for the greater good. All I can say is, “It’s … it’s about bloody time.”
Real: Every bloody day of the season
Not Real: The end (They’ll never be stopped.)