Saturday, September 15, 2007

Good Neighbors

We hadn't been in our new home for an hour before the neighbors started showing up. I was lying inert in a pile of moving boxes when our next door neighbor knocked on the door with a housewarming gift in her hand. Then the retired nurse across the street introduced herself with all our neighbors' names and numbers written down on an index card. Then the couple directly across from us came over with all their small kids and pretty soon we were over in their yard, playing with their toys and climbing their tree. A few days later the nurse's husband--the one who raises South African turtles--dropped off a box of heirloom tomatoes and acorn squash. I only hope we can be as neighborly to all of them as they have already been to us.

On the day of the move I saw a gigantic black and yellow spider stretched across the back of the deck, her abdomen bloated like a snake's head. The next day I saw her in a nearby bush, smaller and clearly protective of the egg sac she had just laid:
I don't know how she got around with all those eggs, since the sac ended up being about as large as a medium-sized marble.
We thought the spectacle, being so close to the house, would freak the kids out, but a recent reading of Charlotte's Web gave the spider and her magnum opus an aura of familiarity. K. still wants me to move the sac further afield before we're knee deep in creepy babies, but I feel full of neighborly magnaminity--half the fun of owning your own yard is letting other kids play in it, right?

On the other hand, we discovered that the bushes lining our driveway are being slowly eaten alive by bagworms, and this is where my live-and-let-live philosophy gets thrown out the window. We first became acquainted with bagworms two years ago when we came to Elsewhere for a summer internship. On one of our exploratory Sunday walks we noticed two blighted bushes--no leaves, but covered with pulsing, prickly pods like the one below:
Apparently, the bagworm slowly works its way around the bush, weaving bits of leaves and bark into its silk bag so that it has some protection during the slow process of turning itself into something slightly less repulsive. Some of our bushes have had an entire side stripped bare, but even partial damage is readily discernible.
I don't know if I would feel more sympathetic to the bagworms if they looked more appealing, but we couldn't kill those things fast enough. They were surprisingly difficult to pluck off, sometimes taking the whole twig with them, but even they weren't as tenacious as Lucy once we put her and the other kids on the job. Pretty soon our driveway was the site of a bagworm massacre.

I felt a twinge of remorse for our treatment of the bagworms--some of them are probably still alive and lying in a maimed, half-formed state until a heavy rain washes them away. Under the laws of nature they can probably claim precedence since they were prospering long before we showed up. Still, we have an expensive piece of paper that says the land is ours and they were making our bushes look ugly and that is apparently enough of an intrusion to justify their complete extermination. I'm not saying it was wrong, but I wonder whether it should seem normal.

Later that day we were walking in the backyard and saw a big, bright, fuzzy caterpillar slowly feeding itself a length of pine needle. I'm not saying that looks are everything, but we let him live.