Beverly Godfrey column: An army of foul, foul creatures
“Out of it came a stench, … a foul reek, as if filth unnameable were piled and hoarded in the dark within.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Two Towers”
In the fall of 2000, there was about a week when you couldn’t walk through my backyard without getting hit in the face by moths.
Thud, thwack, ouch; they were everywhere, these little brown flying insects. I didn’t know what was up with all the moths, but they seemed cute, all tan and furry with antennae that looked like big eyebrows.
The next spring, however, I learned what little harbingers of hell they are because the next spring, the army worms came.
I’m not going to call them forest tent caterpillars, the proper name reporters are saddled with. They will forever be army worms to me because they make me feel like we’ve been invaded, and maybe they’ll feel insulted if I call them that; it’s about all the ammunition I’ve got.
There was talk last year that the worms might return this year, but I didn’t think so because we didn’t get the moths at my house. Recent reports say they aren’t coming this year, but it’s a little late to report that, nature scientists, because they’d already be here if they were coming.
So I’m bracing for the fall to see what happens, all the while haunted by the memories of last time.
I feel it’s important to note that I was pregnant in the spring of 2001, and when I’m pregnant, my sense of smell gets better, and things upset me more than usual. Although I’d still rather not learn how the non-pregnant me deals with a yard turned blue with squishy, crawling worms. I’m not curious enough in entomology or psychology to desire an answer.
Can telling my army worm stories excise the memories from my brain? Please? Can I share for a moment how they descended from the trees on their webs, crawled up the side of the house and ate and pooped in such volume that it was audible wherever I went outside? Or does it get worse in the telling? Whatever the result, I do feel like the reporting you see about “forest tent caterpillars” doesn’t go far enough to describe the experience.
Two things happened during the army worm spring that I can hardly talk about. The events made me swear in all seriousness that when they come back, I’m going to a hotel. This declaration has become family lore to my children, who have heard it their whole lives. I’m thinking it’ll be The Edge water park, one of those nice suites with a lake view, but the details aren’t important except that it have no woods in sight.
The first bad story begins when I noticed cocoons forming on anything left outside, so I decided to bag up the sandbox toys. A pail had been left out and was full of water, darkened, I figured, by some fallen leaves or dirt. I dumped it over to discover it was full of dead, soggy, stinky army worms. They blobbed out in a heap into the sand. I recoiled and stumbled away, taking refuge on the deck, crying. Shaking and sobbing, really. Then I wailed to my poor husband, “Could you please go clean that up?”
Recognizing my insane distress, he did.
The other event was similar. I walked by a tree and caught the whiff of something stinky. I looked down at the base of a tree, and there was a pile of dead worms about a foot deep. He cleaned that up, too.
The webs were also bad. Looking down the street, especially as the sun set, was like looking into Shelob’s Lair, the web-covered, tunnel-of-death home to the giant spider in “The Two Towers,” second book in the “Lord of the Rings” series. It was always a tossup whether to look at them crawling on the ground or look up and see the webs that connected across the treetops.
My kids will ask once in a while if I’m serious about going to a hotel. “Look into my eyes,” I’ll tell them. “Do I look like I’m kidding?”
And no, I don’t.
Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor and columnist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.