Third Day of Christmas: Ladybugs in the Christmas Tree

I originally intended to write about the 2011 edition of New Times‘ Holiday Guide–“Holipocalypse,” a manifesto on making your last holidays really count (you know, on account of the fact that the Mayan calendar was about to run out and we were all going to die). But you can’t schedule spontaneous plagues of ladybugs and tapeworms, so that will have to be delayed another day (or perhaps even two if another unforeseen holiday malady, such as praying mantises in red suits and beards, should happen to strike).

So, in the order of insect invasions, this is how it all went down:

On Sunday, we (Colin, myself, Colin’s brother Ryan, Jack, and Cat Cat) all bundled into the car for the return trip from Davis to San Luis Obispo. We estimated the drive would take us about four and a half to five hours, because that’s the amount of time the drive usually takes. We even opted to take the I5 instead of the 101–despite the fact that the 101 is a much more pleasant drive–because we figured we’d be able to (mostly) avoid traffic. Because I grew up in Prunedale and now live in San Luis Obispo (both towns far too small to experience traffic jams), I have no tolerance for bumper to bumper traffic and tend to mostly panic when I begin to feel trapped in the car. Well, we hit traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. Little spots of red on Google that made me want to get out of the car and stage a serious hissy fit in full view of all the Southern California residents trying to go home. Instead, I kept my cool and left the ranting to Colin, who was in the driver’s seat. Worse still, we were worried about how the cats were handling the drive. Jack will just curl up into the nearest lap and go right to sleep, but Cat Cat is less tolerant. She sat in my lap for hours and every time a semi-truck went by (which was constantly because we had three of them in the slow lane next to us and we spent an hour passing one another at a pace that would have made a snail scoff) she would shudder and look away. My entire focus was on keeping her calm; I would pet her soothingly and talk loudly to her in an effort to mask the sound of the passing trucks.

About five hours into the ride, around the time we should have been arriving at home if circumstances on the road had gone as expected, Cat Cat suddenly stood up, looked out the window, and a pile of cat shit fell into my lap. I was stunned. Colin and Ryan were stunned. Jack was mostly sleepy. Colin pulled over the car, and I handed Cat Cat to Ryan who placed her in the cat carrier where she mostly looked sad and embarrassed. None of us yelled at her or admonished her; I recognized that the experience was probably far more traumatic for her than for any of us. But that didn’t change the fact that there was a very pungent pile of crap sitting in my lap and, I nearly gagged as I realized it, miniature worms wriggling around in the crap. I stumbled out of the car, grabbed my suitcase from the trunk and changed into my pyjamas, not really caring that the passengers in the passing car could probably see what I was doing. The next order of business was to wipe the poop smears off my seat. Colin and I know from experience that you never travel with cats without: Clorox wipes, a plastic bag, paper towels, water, a water bowl, and a towel. And we used them all that day.

I thought about completely freaking out: crying or yelling. But that would have upset Cat Cat even more, so instead I started laughing rather hysterically. We resumed our drive, with Cat Cat in the carrier for the rest of the drive and the three of us watching Jack uneasily, and I laughed hysterically.

I was rather demoralized by what was for me a strange Thanksgiving and Colin and I agreed to purchase our Christmas tree on Monday night, basically as soon as we could after returning home for Thanksgiving. Purchasing a Christmas tree is my favorite of the holiday activities. In fact, I’d say it rivals Christmas Day for me, and not just because my family can never quite make it to Christmas and always open our presents on Christmas Eve. I took off work early to make sure everything was set up for the tree, and Colin and I went to Holloway’s in Nipomo, which is the nearest place that allows you to cut your own tree. I believe this is our fourth tree together, although I could be wrong. I just remember that the first year we hadn’t been together all that long and I gave him hot chocolate with what I thought was a lot of peppermint schnapps, hoping it would give him the extra edge he needed to really enjoy the process of cutting down and decorating a tree. Turns out he barely tasted the alcohol (I have a notoriously low tolerance and what was a lot to me didn’t even register for him) but he still passed out happily on the couch watching Polar Express while I decorated the tree).

Everything went along smoothly, even the hourlong process of strapping the tree to the roof of my car. We got Xmas Ladybughome and Colin started cooking while I decorated the tree. That’s when I started to notice the ladybugs. There were just a couple of them at first, crawling over pine needles and trying to avoid the twinkle lights, and I was utterly charmed. Then Colin came over to help me reach the top of the tree, and uttered an immediate, “uh oh.” I followed his gaze to the ceiling, where a dozen or so of them were dashing all over the place, all of them with important places to be. He grabbed a mason jar left over from my book release party and started scooping them in, releasing them outside whenever he had too many to keep in the jar. After a couple of trips we thought we had them all, but we weren’t even close. Twice I found myself about to step on one, and had to grab the mason jar, walking very gingerly as I went, to relocate them. I thought I felt one in my hair and Colin insisted I was imagining things until I found the culprit on my neck. This morning I found one on my purse as I tried to leave the house for work. They seem especially fond of clustering around the topmost point of the silver snowflake at the top of the tree.

At one point last night, I tried to get Colin’s advice about the decorations and all he would say is, “Right now, I’m mostly concerned with catching ladybugs … Stay in the jar dickhead!”

So now we have a Christmas tree and a couple dozen unexpected guests which seem more than happy to make themselves at home in my house. I heard Colin muttering about how weird the house is, and I fear he is correct in his assessment. Nothing ever seems to go as planned, but how can you plan for something like ladybugs? And as far as infestations go–we’ve had ants, mice, and spiders–this is far from the worst.

Nonetheless, I feel compelled to add that the Lady Bug Hunter (he even saved one from a spider that was Big Sur Treestalking it across the ceiling to my panicked shouts of encouragement) has a photo for sale at Linnaea’s Cafe’s annual Hang It All art show. The show runs through the end of December and each piece costs less than $100. The best part is, if you buy a piece, you get to take it home with you immediately. None of that dreadful waiting to come and claim your prize. Colin’s photograph was taken in Big Sur and costs $60, which includes the frame. I’m not expecting you to take my word on the awesomeness of this image. Go to Linnaea’s Cafe (1110 Garden St.) in SLO and check it out. I happen to know a couple other artists who also have their work available for sale (Peg Grady; Lena Rushing, who created the artwork on the cover of my book among them) and can safely say that Colin’s photograph is keeping excellent company. And if you do your art shopping on Monday night (known to the rest of us as Waffle Night), you can indulge in some of the best brenner known to humanity.

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