Friday, August 28, 2009

Chemicals and bugs. . . Ugh!

When we were preparing our Berkeley house for sale, we took three carloads of household chemicals to the hazardous waste disposal site in Oakland where guys in Hazmat suits picked through our bottles and cans of auto fluids, garden products, paints, and cleaning supplies as if they were handling Agent Orange. I was amazed at how much toxic junk we had accumulated over 22 years, and I resolved to make a fresh start in our new home – not just to save the environment or ourselves, but also and especially because of Honey.

So as far as I can do it, I’ve banned all chemicals from the new house. I make up my own cleaning supplies from baking soda, castille soap, lemon juice, and the like. And what I can’t make for myself, I’ve been buying from Whole Foods – chemical-free shampoos, dishwasher soaps, and laundry detergents. And I found a guy who promises to keep our big lawn looking good without using any garden chemicals, even though he probably thinks I’m crazy not to just spray away like everybody else does.

I was feeling pretty successful until yesterday when I got a letter from Curry’s Termite and Pest Control Company here in Little Rock. The letter says that the former owner of our house had a contract with them for quarterly pest treatments – and they’d like to offer the same arrangement to me. I asked them what chemicals they have been using, and haven’t yet had an answer - apparently, nobody asks this question and they're composing a response. It brought me up short to realize that some guy has been spraying the house every three months with who-know-what-all substances for the past ten years. There’s probably a ton of nasty stuff seeped into the walls and crawlspaces. And I can only guess how much stuff has been applied to the gardens, too. Will it take ten years before the place is really clean again? In such a context, what good does it do to buy organic foods and cleaning products?

I know there are more pests in this Southern climate than we had in California and I don’t want to be stupid about this. I don’t want to live in a bug-infested house just because I don't like bug spray or weed killer. And if you look closely at some of the houses down here, you can see how much unrestrained wildlife damages a property over time. Complacency is not really an option. But I'm not at all sure what to do.

My mother-in-law, Evelyn Wiggins, lived in Central Florida. I remember how she used to take the kitchen trash out to the street every night to keep the roaches out of her house. And I’ve been reading that you CAN keep pests at bay by being scrupulously clean, caulking cracks leading into the house, and controlling moisture. Evelyn was one of those extremely vigilant and determined people, but bug control was a never-ending challenge for her. I never asked her, but I would not be surprised if Evelyn didn’t also have a quarterly pest control contract. I certainly saw the cans of RAID in her cabinets.

So here I am with another one of those Arkansas-is-not-California dilemmas, researching options, learning something new. I guess this is part of why we moved here – to get a fresh perspective on life. And, still, it’s not always easy to feel this kind of confusion about the most basic details of life. I welcome your advice and suggestions, if you want to share them.

Katie and Honey came to visit this week. They had tons of fun attending Vanessa’s wedding in San Francisco last weekend – and we got to hear all about it. Katie saw her high school friends, the people she grew up with. She says it was strange to visit Berkeley without us living there, but her friends had made her feel at home anyway. And besides, she's glad we're here now.

Anyway, here's Honey bringing home her leftover organic, chemical-free french fries after lunch. I won't bother to ask the restaurant about their pest treatment program. I'm sure I don't want to know!

1 comment:

  1. I got two great comments to this post so far. One friend said: "Have a scotch on the rocks and a cigarette and turn on the TV. That should work."

    Another person said: "Here in NY they use a chemical called Cygon for termites, it has been banned for any other uses. You should definitely find out what they are spraying, and if it's Cygon or a similar one make them stop. Cygon lasts for 10 years. It was a common treatment for lawn grubs for about 20 years and when they banned it, no grubs showed in any lawn for 10 years. Unfortunately there is not a good chemical that works for termites. But those companies are notorious for over applying chemicals because they can't charge you unless they spray something."

    And finally, my sister Iris remembered that a pest company in Austin used Rosemary oil to treat for termites. Maybe I could find an equally enlightened company here.