Brother Can You Spare an Aphid?

Temperatures have been well below freezing for over a week now, and in these parts it’s dipped below zero with double-digit negative wind chills.  The springfed well that went dry in late summer, prompting the owner of the property to drill a new well, has caught up with itself, the pristine water rising to the surface to saturate the driveway.  It continuously runs down to the road and freezes, layering itself, creating a sheet of ice inches thick.  The best I can do when leaving in the car is aim in the desired direction and hope to stop at the bottom of the driveway instead of shooting across the road and down an embankment.   Treachery!

Ice in driveway
Frozen spring water: Enter top, exit bottom, freeze, repeat.
Ice in street
This is where the spring-generated ice meets the road and continues the path of least resistance down the road.

However, inside this old house, spring seems to be abloom!  Thanks to the unseasonably warm fall and fluctuating temperatures, I have been living in the midst of an ongoing ladybug infestation.  I like ladybugs and I don’t mind them flying around the house, but I was first concerned for their survival. They like a measure of humidity, of which I have little inside, and the aphid population registers even lower since I gave away most of my houseplants before moving.  Aphids, along with some mites and scale insects, are the only things ladybugs will eat, and while I’m into feeding the world since humans are consuming nearly everything there is, I won’t be importing mites to my home.

On the flip side, it can become a little tiresome having so many ladybugs around.  They have landed in my food prep areas while I am cooking, and also on the dining table during meals.  There are worse things in life that could, and do, happen, but it’s unappetizing when even a nice insect drops from the chandelier and plops next to my plate.  Kitchen activities require heightened vigilance.  The beetles have occasionally buzzed my head, landed in my hair, and turned up in my folded canvas grocery bags.

On warmer, sunnier days in the late fall, literally hundreds of them swarmed the south facing side of the house, doors and windows; penetrated the structure through cracks; and occupied every room on both levels of my home as they vied for hibernation space.  I have since learned an interesting equation:

southern exposure + light colored house + clapboard = ladybug beacon

I saw a congress of eight of them high along one vaulted bedroom wall, and over the course of a couple of days, they moved closer and closer to each other until, with my uncorrected vision one dusky evening, they took on a menacing form.  They like to cluster together while hibernating, which I get, but seeing them amassed on the wall over a bed troubled me.  Not being able to reach them for eviction, I left them alone and eventually they dispersed or, more possibly, died.  I have since learned that affixing a stocking to a vacuum cleaner hose with a rubberband can be a harmless way to capture and release them.

I was aware that the United States is home to an invasive type of ladybug, so I consulted an expert on the subject, www.ladybuglady.com, to confirm my suspicion that these were my interlopers.   I think what I have here are Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia Axyridis), a breed that was imported to the US from Asia in the early part of the 20th century for crop pest control.  Over the last decade or so, they have been released around the northeastern United States to protect our hardwood trees.  Both of these initiatives were successful, and hey, no chemicals were used other than, I suppose, the fuel to transport them to release point.  I am given to understand that the releases are no longer taking place in this region, which is probably a good thing since I have enough to at minimum protect the state of New York.  This particular type of ladybug reportedly will sometimes bite if frenzied for a place to hibernate, but I can’t bring myself to swat them.

When we moved into this home, the owner surprised me with the suggestion to set off insecticide foggers, if we went away for a few days, to thwart returning to a maelstrom of lady beetles.  She also crinkled her nose as she cautioned that they smell terrible.  My perplexity at the time had to be visible, but I have since read in several places that, when stressed, ladybugs release a yellow substance that stains and emits a foul odor.  My unscientific mind likens this defense mechanism to that of an octopus or squid releasing ink.  Evidently, a prior occupant disturbed a cluster of ladybugs, and the consequences have outlasted both of their tenancies.

Ladybug Ink
This is moulding alongside a ceiling beam. The staining is “reflex bleeding” left by distressed ladybugs. When they ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

I wouldn’t set off foggers to kill ladybugs, but having pets inside the home would preclude me from doing so just the same.  They haven’t bitten me, so I don’t whack them.  As long as they stay out of my food, I can catch and release them outside where they crawl back under the clapboard, hopefully to reorient themselves to torpor and not just reenter the house through another crevice.  If I can steward them through the winter, the gardens this summer will be lovely.

Echinacea in winter

Well Well Well

I tend to be mindfully appreciative of the blessings I have in my life at any given time, but the Thanksgiving holiday raises the level of consciousness for many of us, inspiring us to articulate thanks for gifts for which we are particularly grateful.  At this time, I want to express my appreciation for water.  More directly, for clean, running water that magically appears every time I flip a lever.  I am also thankful to all of those who work, lobby, and fight to conserve, preserve, and educate us about one of the most basic elements we need to survive.

Although I consider myself reasonably devoted to sustainable living, moving into a 200-year-old farmhouse over the summer has made me more acutely aware of my water consumption.  The water to the house is fed by the original spring-fed well that has supplied water to this structure for nearly two centuries.  It is clean and clear and fresh, sparkles like crystal when held up to the light in a transparent glass, smells like nothing, and tastes like luminous cold.

Well water in glass resized
As clear as the crystal glass it’s in

However, the springs that feed this well have evidently been running progressively lower, and I have found myself stranded in the shower more than once, naturally covered in soap or with conditioner-saturated hair when the water first turned icy, then the pressure dropped, and then there was nothing but the sound of the pump in the basement until it ground to a halt, the water in the well having dropped to an inaccessible level.  Even with continued conservation – three-minute showers if any (sorry), severely restricted flushing (sorrier), choosing which days to run water-consuming appliances on the shortest cycles – the water has still run out.

This prompted our hardworking and highly responsive landlords to have a new well drilled a couple of weeks ago, after which it was capped until the plumbing could be run into the house.  There is so much water in the aquifer that supplies the new well, the cap could not contain it, so water spurted and cascaded from the wellhead for two weeks, turning the driveway and side yard to a thick amalgamation of sludge from drilled rock and mud.  With self- and spring-fed-well-imposed restrictions, this was psychologically and emotionally agonizing to watch.  There was a brief respite from this when I saw a small flock of black-capped chickadees drinking from the leaking water one unseasonably warm day.

well head
The new well head rises three feet above ground so snow plows won’t accidentally rupture it. I think I should put a bicycle flag on top of it.

 

well drilling tire tracks
This used to be a gravel driveway, but the overflow of water and loose shale particles combined with heavy equipment has obliterated it

The plumbing was completed the day before yesterday, eliminating the overflow from the new wellhead.  After flushing it (the water running from the well through the basement pipes and then discharging via hose through a window into the front yard) for about 20 hours, there is still a lot of sediment in the aquifer.  It had cleared, but then turned cloudier and silty again, so we are back to using the limited spring water while the aquifer continues to flush.  Even though the water is grey with pulverized shale and other sediment, it is still excruciating to watch it surge from the hose out into the grass, though I suppose it is being recycled on a large scale by our usual environmental processes of evaporation and absorption, to return again in some other form in some other place, likely not useful to us.

About 70% of earth is water, but most of it is saline (ocean and similar).  Only 2.5% of it is fresh, and only 1% of that fresh water is accessible to people like us around the globe; the other 1.5% comprises snowfields and glaciers, which of course we aren’t actively using.  By the time the math is sorted out, only about 0.007% of the water on our planet is available to our exploding population of 7+ billion people.1  I realize how terribly spoiled I am, turning on the tap for a glass of water or standing in a hot shower, however briefly, to feel clean, so I don’t dare complain about my first world problems.  There is much that can be said on the topic of water, regarding availability and consumption, and there are people far better qualified than I to explain (see links below).

All I’m saying is, I am sincerely thankful for every drop of potable water I drink from the tap; pour into the bowls of trusting pets; brew into coffee or tea; use to clean food, my home, and everything in it.  I never want to take more than I need, but what I “need” is so relative.  I might use very little compared to my neighbor down the street, but in contrast to someone who doesn’t have access to clean fresh water, it would probably seem astounding that I can bathe daily and still fill a pot with water to cook or wash a basin full of once- or twice-worn clothes.  I think perhaps the best way I can express my gratitude for water is to use as little of it as possible so that others – human and otherwise – might know this same gratitude.

1 http://www.environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/freshwater-crisis/


 

Click here to learn how you can help conserve water.

Click here to learn about the global water crisis.  These are details not broadcasted by mainstream media, but they should be.

Click here to read about the impacts of the water crisis on wildlife, the global environment, and us.