Picture this. You walk into your bathroom and notice a large centipede in your tub, frozen in place, perhaps because it senses you, but alive. What do you do?
Most people would smash the centipede with their shoe, pick it up with some toilet paper, and throw it in the toilet. That’s what I used to do.
Lately, however, my attitude towards bugs has changed, and no one is more surprised by this than I. That’s because I very strongly dislike things that scurry or buzz, especially in my house, but even outside. When I encounter one of these creepy-crawly-buzzing creatures I tend to react with the stereotypical “scream and jump on the nearest chair” routine, followed by the equally predictable “search and destroy” routine.
The only exception has been spiders. I don’t know if it’s a myth I once heard, or because I read Charlotte’s Web when I was a child, but I’ve always believed it’s bad luck to kill a spider.
I think the attitude shift towards the rest of the creepy-crawlies started after my late husband died. I remember going on a hike in the Santa monica mountains about four weeks after he died. It was ill-advised to attempt a hike – I was totally exhausted and didn’t make it very far.
I ended up sitting at a bench and just staring at the scenery – ducks in the water, flies and bumblebees buzzing around, a hummingbird making its way from flower to flower. At the time, I felt resentment, like why did these flies and bumblebees get to live and Kaz didn’t?
But over the years, I started marveling at anything to do with Nature, even bugs. I actually started feeling like we humans are the guests, and the bugs, plants, and animals are the hosts. Like it’s their planet. We’re just passing through.
When I moved from Los Angeles to rural upstate New York, the bugs and critters seemed more natural than people. I still screamed when I saw them in my house, but I hesitated before running after them with a can of bug spray. And I felt really bad when I killed one. That house had a mice problem, and the owner helped me put out traps and poison. One day I came home to a dead mouse floating in the toilet, which was beyond gross, but also sad. The mouse probably ate the poison and jumped into the toilet to relieve his thirst or pain. I felt terrible for it.
When I moved into my current house, I was relieved that it didn’t seem to have any major bug or rodent issues. Then, one winter’s day when all the windows were closed, a diamond-dhaped, flat, flying bug suddenly landed on my computer, seemingly out of nowhere. Normally, I would have killed it, but something told me not to.
I very gently picked the bug up with a tissue, opened the window to the freezing winter’s air, and threw it outside, wishing it luck.
I repeated this with about a dozen identical bugs (or a dozen times with the same bug, who knows) over the course of that first winter. After the third time, I decided to research the bug and learned that it was a Stink Bug, which are common in this area and relatively harmless.
Killing a Stink Bug releases… you guessed it… the Mother of all Stinks. So, my instinct to not kill it was correct.
Since then, I have felt less inclined to kill other bugs I come across. Which brings me back to the centipede.
A few weeks ago I saw this thing in my tub.
I immediately screamed and ran out of the bathroom, horrified and hyperventilating.
When I finally got up the nerve to re-enter the bathroom, I stood over the tub and inspected the centipede. My voice must have startled it, because now it was trying desperately to crawl out, but as soon as it got halfway up, it slid back down. It was definitely trapped.
Everything about this bug revolted me. But I simply couldn’t kill it. Which meant I had to get rid of it some other way.
First, I tried easing a piece of toilet paper under it, but the minute I got close, the damn thing started running so fast, it was almost on my finger before I knew what was happening. I screamed, dropped the toilet paper with the centipede, and ran out of the bathroom again.
A few minutes later, I returned with a New Yorker magazine.
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” I said to the centipede. “I’m trying to save you.”
I took a deep breath, paused to open the window and the screen, then gently placed the New Yorker under the centipede. Once again it ran at lightening speed across the magazine, but I had *just* enough time to stand up and throw it and the New Yorker outside.
This same scenario happened with a black ant, as well as a spider. Apparently, my tub is a popular spot.
Then, of course, there was the squirrel who jumped in front of my car and which I quickly swerved to avoid hitting.
The deer that someone else hit, whose dead body on the side of the road caused me to burst into tears.
And the frogs.
Returning home from a friend’s house in the woods one rainy evening, my headlights picked up on movement on the road ahead. It was hundreds, if not thousands, of little frogs jumping in the middle of the road (this video shows a similar situation, though I was on a smaller country road).
It was too late to turn back, so I had to keep going… knowing that I was killing at least a few frogs. It was heartbreaking.
As was the other day when a bee stung me, and I realized that the bee would die.
Why am I telling you about these weird stories? I guess because I see a direct correlation between loss and life.
I was just trying to explain this to a friend the other day (and wasn’t terribly articulate about it). Losing people, and experiencing death up close, humbles you. Humbles me. To the point where I don’t look at any living creature in the same way. The centipede, bees, worms, snakes, rats, mice, you name it… call me a hippie, but I will spend a little more time to avoid them without harming them.
Unless you’re a mosquito.
If you’re a mosquito, fuggedaboutit.