Baltimore Sun

Would na­ture miss us if we were gone?

- By Sarah Richards

With a tiny shriek, my head bobbed back and I held si­lent, still. I could feel the pul­sat­ing wings of the bee next to my face, its hum­ming like a tiny egg­beater against my cheek.

Fif­teen feet up, this was se­ri­ous. I was bal­anc­ing atop a long alu­minum lad­der, at­tempt­ing to clean out a gut­ter. An hour ear­lier, I’d been up the lad­der in this same spot, plug­ging a small hole in our roof that had been made by a car­pen­ter bee. Said bee had now re­turned and was not happy.

If the bee de­cided to ex­act re­venge, I would plum­met 15 feet if I fell to the right. Were I to fall to the left, it would be some 30 feet off my home’s back deck.

Down be­low me, my hus­band and son went quiet as they watched, hold­ing the lad­der.

The bee wasn’t quite done. It flew sev­eral feet away, then flew back, com­ing even closer, this time to my lips. My mind filed through a dis­ap­point­ing se­ries of op­tions: Swish the bee away. Lean my body away from the bee (and, un­for­tu­nately, lad­der). Begin climb­ing down. Re­main mo­tion­less. Even­tu­ally, the bee de­cided I wasn’t worth sting­ing and flew off over the roof of the house. I ex­haled and be­gan de­scend­ing the lad­der. When I got to the bot­tom, I sat down on a deck chair, rest­ing my hands on my knees in shock.

Our home is lo­cated on three acres of dense woods. It is an oa­sis, a dark, wet world of big spi­ders, noisy birds, red fox and white-tailed deer. It is also cov­ered in cedar shin­gles, mak­ing it an at­trac­tive home for a va­ri­ety of crea­tures like car­pen­ter bees, which gnaw small holes the size of dimes along the roof within which they nest.

When we first saw our house as po­ten­tial buy­ers, we were en­tranced with the idea of living in the woods. We loved our fu­ture home’s eerie oth­er­world­li­ness. Here was our own lit­tle wilder­ness play­ground, a real life na­ture show where we’d live as one with the wildlife yet still en­joy a hot shower and the mall 10 min­utes away.

It took only two years, how­ever, to re­al­ize that rather than see­ing us as pro­tec­tors or sav­iors, the mil­lions of species we co­ex­ist with con­sider us as hosts — the type from which you drain blood — or com­peti­tors who hap­pen to be us­ing the same living space. No mat­ter how hard we at­tempt to get along (which ide­ally would in­clude their stay­ing out of the house), we are con­stantly beat­ing back what I have come to ac­cept as an in­vad­ing force.

The grapefruit-sized wolf spi­ders seem to pre­fer our base­ment and the un­der­side of my mo­tor­cy­cle’s cover. The black rat snakes like living un­der­neath our porch. The maples and po­plars seem to ap­pear overnight, their wet green fin­gers climb­ing up the house walls. The ob­nox­ious wren that ex­pects to­tal pri­vacy while nest­ing above the side door. The ants, yes — there are ants, and many of them.

I now be­lieve that were we to go away for more than two weeks, we’d come home to some­thing prob­a­bly un­rec­og­niz­able as a house, a struc­ture that has been en­tirely re­turned to the for­est. If you’ve ever seen the paint­ings of Amer­i­can artist Alexis Rockman, with their an­i­mal char­ac­ters seem­ingly ca­pa­ble of living in the most post-apoc­a­lyp­tic of set­tings, you’ll know what I mean.

Per­haps this is why so many of us love so-called ruin porn — the ubiq­ui­tous on­line pho­to­graphs of derelict build­ings in places like Detroit or long-aban­doned sum­mer re­sorts in up­state New York. We are trans­fixed by the ways na­ture sur­vives or reap­pears in places we be­lieve we dom­i­nated or de­stroyed, from the trees that grow out of crum­bling houses in Bal­ti­more to the wolves and boar roam­ing the toxic lands of Ch­er­nobyl.

The day af­ter the bee in­ci­dent, an ex­ter­mi­na­tor came out to de­stroy an un­der­ground wasps’ nest next to the front door. My hus­band told the young man how I was plug­ging the car­pen­ter bee holes with wood putty. “We don’t rec­om­mend do­ing that be­cause the bees will sim­ply ex­ca­vate new holes in your house,” he replied. That’s OK, I thought to my­self; I’m not quite ready to give up yet.

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