Fall has undoubtedly arrived. Days are growing shorter, the light is golden, the weather has turned crisp, and rain has actually fallen onto the sad remains of my parched lawn.
The clear air holds a hint of wood smoke (which I’m hoping is from someone’s fireplace and not another multi-acre blaze), replacing the summer aroma of burgers on the grill.
All seems peaceful in the valley, but I don’t trust it. My troops are on high alert.
It has happened too many times in the past. Just as I get lulled into a sense of autumnal complacency, Mother Nature raises her spiteful head and sends incursions to test the boundaries of our detente.
We have an uneasy truce underway in a long-running cold war. I’ve drawn a line in the sand (well, actually, the paths are decomposed granite, but close enough) and made it perfectly clear to Ma Nature: the yard is hers and the house is mine. The patio and outdoor kitchen serve as the DMZ.
Our deal generally holds, despite some minor border skirmishes. In exchange for bounteous shade all summer, I have agreed to cope with the billions of leaves she sends drifting knee-high on my patio, the acorns clunking onto the tiles, and the layer of dust and grime she deposits onto the grill and outdoor counters.
And she has agreed to stay outside where she belongs.
She honors the agreement, but I know it rankles. She has designs on my territory. Nature has a long memory. She hasn’t forgotten that where my neighborhood stands was all hers 100 years ago. The very existence of this settlement on the west bank of the Napa River is a constant reminder of her loss.
She tried to shake us interlopers off a couple of years ago with an earthquake, but succeeded only in toppling a few chimneys on the block. After that defeat, she retreated, but it hasn’t stopped her from sending drones (she calls them flies) into my house to check things out from time to time.
There was one buzzing around last week that I made the mistake of shooing outside rather than shooting down. It clearly made it back to her with a report. And it must have detected a seasonal vulnerability in my defenses.
Because this week she attacked.
This is not the first time she has planned a fall offensive. Some years, she sends her foot soldiers inside, in the form of an army of ants streaming into the kitchen. Sometimes she sends mice to conduct guerrilla raids on my rice supply.
This time, she decided to go with the air force.
First I spotted one moth flitting around the kitchen. Then there were two. Then half a dozen more. Then the whole squadron invaded.
Indian meal moths. My sworn enemy.
Have you ever experienced them? They are sneaky devils, smuggling in their nearly invisible eggs in innocent-looking commodities like spices, raisins, nuts and all things grain-based.
You don’t know they are there until one day you open a package or bag and see cobwebby strands clinging to the side. And then notice half-inch long wriggling larvae.
At which point, you scream and throw out the package as quickly as you can, inspect everything else in the cupboard and throw most of that out too, start moving everything that isn’t yet infested into the freezer just to be sure and clean the pantry from top to bottom.
Otherwise, you will suddenly find yourself with moths hatching at the rate of what feels like one a minute, flitting around the kitchen and dive-bombing your head, while you desperately hunt for the source. And any you miss will lay eggs and start the cycle all over again.
Well played, Ma.
Your underhanded tactics haven’t driven me out of the house so you can reclaim it. But you have succeeded in forcing my hand, making me undertake a strategic counterattack I have been avoiding for months.
* * *
A recipe this week? Surely you jest. When I finish eradicating these pests, there won’t be much left in my pantry to cook with. Besides, the webs and the wriggly larvae things turn my stomach and take my appetite away.
We can’t let those little terrorists win. So I’m turning it into a positive and dieting this week.
If it goes as well as my past diets, I’ll be back in two weeks weighing much less (at least two ounces, maybe even three), with a yummy and highly caloric recipe to kick off the holiday season.