I’m mowing in a long-sleeved shirt, trying not to bump any palms, flinching every time I feel anything resembling a bite.
I want to love this place, the good and the bad, the way the Hawaiians do, without fear. But the ants are here now.
They found us. Actually, they are all over Hawaii since 1999 when they arrived from Florida in our very own Puna suburb, Hawaiian Paradise Park. These are not the red fire ants I knew on the mainland. These are from South America and have been spreading throughout the tropics for 100 years.
All the labyrinth ladies have them and, in fact, my first miserable week-long itchy bite was at the labyrinth itself back in May. I thought it was a spider. Different people react to the bites differently.
Then last month, while dragging bromeliads and hacking down vines and ginger gone wild, connecting to the land Hawaiian style, I got maybe ten bites. At Game Night, a week later, the bites were still driving me nuts.
“Those are Little Fire Ant bites!” one of the ladies said when I called them spider bites.
“We don’t have fire ants,” I said, quoting the Bearded One, who quoted the former owner of the Hippie House, as I scratched fiercely under my breast for the 7th day.
“Uh, I think you do now,” she said.
One woman told of having the welts for three weeks and having to mix a paste with Domeboro powder to get relief. One told of getting a bite in her eye. I gasped.
All the ladies chimed in. Aloe, Tee Tree Oil, wash off with soap and water and apply vinegar —
— wear long socks on your arms while weeding, call Zachary and Luna, call Justin, go to littlefireants.com. I wrote it all down.
“The worst thing you can do is nothing,” they chorused as I departed.
So I told the Bearded One. He set the prescribed peanut butter traps the next day.
Within 20 minutes, the sticks and peanut butter were covered with the tiny red ants. I’ve hardly gone outside since. Too much itch.
Until this week. When Justin came with his environmentally okay bait and sprayed.
It takes only 5 or 6 hours for the ants to haul the poison to the queens, but mowing isn’t when I got bit before. The ants like the trees. You just bump a branch and they fall on you.
Earlier this month, before our son Austin (aka His Majesty) and his girlfriend Kunga left Hawaii for the mainland to visit family and seek their fortune, Austin and his friend Nate harvested 70 coconuts from several of our coconut palm trees.
They used Nate’s “stand,” a little platform secured to the tree trunk as they climbed.
“Did you get any fire ant bites?” I asked when Austin came in, sweaty and happy.
“About fifty,” he said. “They really rained down.”
“FIFTY!” I was horrified. I would die.
“I get them all the time, Mom. They’re not THAT bad.” This is pretty much exactly what the Bearded One says.
“Go take a shower!” I said, trying to save him. “Wash with soap and water! Vinegar! Aloe!”
He agreed, probably just to cool off.
As he showered, Kunga and I looked out the kitchen window. At Nate. Who lay flat on his back on the ground under the clothesline.
“What’s he doing?!” I asked. “Is he okay?? He could get bitten!”
Kunga smiled. “Grounding,” she said sweetly. “Just grounding. Listen to him.”
He was chanting. Fearless in the face of the ants, grateful to be here on this wondrous island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, living a lovely yoga-esque spirituality that not even the risk of a fire ant bite can wreck.
As I mow, I’m noticing places that I want to clean out, pineapple islands grown over with weeds and vines, drooping palm leaves. I also notice 10 different blooming red flowers, a pair of yellow birds, several blue dragonflies, and a neon green gecko. The Bearded One hauls my grass clippings to his now THREE banana beds. He hasn’t had a fire ant bite all week.
I admire the new shed, the Bearded One’s 60th birthday present, which sits in the back corner of the acre under shading palms.
The garden tools will be so easy to access. Soon, I think, soon the ants will be gone.
Finally I dump the last catcher-full of clippings onto the banana bed next to the clothesline as it starts to rain. Two more days and we’ll put out the peanut butter traps again, I think, as I run for the house. See if we still have the ants. And even if there are a few, which we’ll continue to treat, I vow to lie down under the clothesline, when it’s not raining, and when the Bearded One isn’t watching, and ground myself deeper still in the Big Island.