Maybe Ten Bites

I’m mowing in a long-sleeved shirt, trying not to bump any palms, flinching every time I feel anything resembling a bite.

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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.

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“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 —

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— 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.

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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.

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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.

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They used Nate’s “stand,” a little platform secured to the tree trunk as they climbed.

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“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.

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“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.

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I admire the new shed, the Bearded One’s 60th birthday present, which sits in the back corner of the acre under shading palms.

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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.

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40 responses to “Maybe Ten Bites

  1. You must taste good – this is the only reason why they would bite you! I have a daughter that mosquitoes love to bits – she too is the nicest, goodest person ever!! See how my theory work? 🙂

    I got vertigo just looking at the photos of those boys up the trees – fearless huh!! It’s a funny thing how as you get older the ground is more necessary to have beneath your feet……

    I hope the peanut butter traps work and you will soon be lying spreadeagled on the ground, grounding yourself in your Pacific Paradise. xoxo

    PS BO’s new shed looks very fancy under those palms and amongst all that lush greenery. I think though it needs a log bench outside it for ‘setting a spell on’ between jobs………… Arohanui xoxo

    • Mahalo, Pauline. 🙂 I couldn’t believe how high up those pictures were, either. Like a drone. Nate is very careful and mindful and he was teaching Austin. I hope the peanut butter mixture works, too! No ants so far, and we’ll follow up with Justin. Enough seems to happen around here that I can manage a monthly blog. lol It’s been 4.5 years blogging now. I’ve made such lovely friends doing it, it’s hard to stop. Your posts are always a treat. Love you, Christi

  2. Love this.

  3. It actually take a couple of months for the bait-to-queen routine to work- the effect is only noticeable when the next generations don’t start replacing the workers. So hang in there and have your friend keep doing the treatment – don’t give up!

  4. Thank you so much, It’s like a special little film made to show me my friends; the photos are great.

  5. You are braver than I am. I draw the line at ant bites. You must be deeply grounded or you would have left. Keep hanging in there. You’re showing me how it’s done.

    • Mahalo Ross! The mosquito heat zapper doesn’t work on the ant bites. I use ice mainly. We haven’t seen a fire ant in a week. I plan to get out in it in a few days. Wish me luck! 🙂

  6. Your stories/blog posts are so cyclical now Ms Christi. They start, they have a delicious round middle and then the run smoothly into a wonderful understanding message that comes from living a contented life in paradise. As with all homes, paradise comes with a cost. Nothing that is worth it comes for free or without hassle. You need those hassles, those fire ants, to get the true sense of bliss when the bloody things go away. I can almost taste how sweet life is and your posts are redolent with understanding and happiness. I was just reading about how we learn to “savour” happiness in our 50’s. I love that we both know how very lucky we are. When you are grounding with that glorious Hawaiian soil, please give it a little nose rub from narf7 of upper-cumbuckance Tasmania 🙂

    • Mahalo, Fran! The narrative arc, yes! I’m finding that with the longer time between blogs, enough happens to give the arc a little more depth, backstory and such. I thought I would quit blogging, but it’s working for now to space them out a bit more. Hard to believe the first one was back in February, 2011! We’ve been friends YEARS now, my dear! Us ladies in our 50s. And to look at Pauline and my friend Christine, the 60s are pretty great, too. Love you. xxoo

  7. Hi. Fire ants sound alarming! Here our summer has been amazingly monsoon-y – thus bringing with it more mosquitoes, the nasty “no-see’ums”, and for Den out in the wilds photographing one day “chigger bites” from foot to groin. Yes….life with the little biting critters of nature. The yin and yang. Water nurturing the land brings insects that provide food for the birds and the lizards and the bats. You have the scary fire ants living in the profound coconut trees. We have the annoying “no see’ums” and then….as twilight fades to dark…the bats with their flitting night magic….and….sweet to say….their feasting on the bugs.
    Big hugs, C

    • Aloha Christine. Geckos are big bug eaters here! I’m happy to see them in my house and car, munching away, leaving their little white eggs in the crevices. Mahalo for your beautiful description of desert and island life. Love you! xxoo

  8. Fire ants you poor things! I do hope they pack up and leave Christi. Your garden is looking gorgeous and I love the shed too 😊

  9. Ack! I am another tasty target for biting critters of all kinds, which makes me glad to live here, where they’re not so plentiful. Mosquitos love me, but I can (mostly) handle their bites. The occasional bee sting or spider bite or flea bite is tolerable, but I can’t imagine a fire ant welt that lasts weeks! Good luck getting rid of them — Paradise should not include fire ants!! xoxoB

    • Aloha Becky! When I first moved to Seattle back in 1979 from Texas, I couldn’t believe how few bugs there were. I, too, love that aspect of the PNW. No roaches! Very few mosquitos! No poisonous snakes! It would be Paradise if there was just a wee bit more sun. 🙂 xxxooo

  10. OH Christi I have been thinking of you and truly miss our coffee talks! But I see you are having a real adventure on the big island! We used to have ants in California that drove me crazy when they came into the house, but at least they didn’t bite! You’re in the jungle now! teehee…sending love!

    • I’ve been thinking of you, too, Suzanne. I miss our Starbucks dates and catching up on your beautiful creations. I really am in the jungle now, you’re right, although this area of Puna is called the “banana belt” because we get less rain than the rest…still A LOT of rain, though. Love to you and Bob and Sedar! xxoo

  11. I think we, too, may finally have fire ants. We’ve escaped it so far, but our neighbor in back has them, and the neighbor across the street as well. With lots of weed pulling to discover the actual boundaries of our lot, I incurred a mysterious blister-type welt on my arm. It is reminiscent of my reaction to poison oak, but as we don’t have that here,… My yoga group seems to think it is the fire ants, but I’m not so sure.

    • Aloha Genny! Our neighbor across the road has them, and we have vacant lots on either side. The peanut butter test will identify them. Black ants could care less about peanut butter. 🙂 I grew up in Texas and I know poison oak and poison ivy. These little fire ant bites can produce that same reaction in some people. I didn’t get the weepy sores, but the intense itch was similar. Yogis are pretty astute. 🙂 Try the peanut butter test…. xxoo

  12. Yes, we are blessed with the little critters here in south Florida. They do move around from time to time. (haven’t seen them for a while) Be patient. And give them a wild berth if you can.

  13. Mahalo, Christi!

  14. I’m sitting outside as I read this. It’s 55 degrees here right now and not an insect in site. I love Minnesota!

  15. What an engaging post, Christie. Ants and chants! Peace, John

  16. Hmmm fire ants sound nasty! Hopefully you can it the numbers back to a reasonable level. Made me shiver to think they drop off the trees! How high up were they in the trees! I went up in a hot air balloon recently, amazing views. This was a huge step for me as I don’t like heights or moving things lol. It was a beautiful experience, so peaceful and gentle. Those photos gave me the heebie jeabies though 😀. Try lying down in the rain too, use to love doing that as a kid. Just don’t drown if it’s a really heavy down pour lol.

  17. I hate mosquito bites–and fire ants sound 10 times worse. 🙂

  18. Thanks for this Christi — you continue to inspire me and make me smile! Yesterday I found long leafy algae growing inside the back of our toilet and I freaked. Apparently it is common here. Embracing a new place is a journey …. and not a short one. May those red flowers and yellow birds and blue dragonflies keep you smiling, and may you and the little fire ants reach a sort of peace sooner or later!

  19. I left Puna a couple of months ago with my cats. My big girl had gotten bit in the eye by fire ants and was partially blinded. The vet said if she stayed and got bit again she might become totally blind.
    My neighbors cat was blind with fogged up eyes. I couldn’t let that happen to my pets which I spent hundreds to ship there. So I spent hundreds to ship them back, the bugs won, I’m gone. They need to bug bomb that whole island, they, meaning the agriculture officials, let it get completely out of control. You can’t control the fire ants on your property unless your whole neighborhood is in on it and good luck with that. The same with those annoying coqui frogs.

    The best remedy for fire ant bites I found was ammonia. Dab it on the bites as soon as you get bit. Wait 20 min. and dab again. Chances are you wont get a welt and the itch will stop.
    Best of luck to you, I don’t think I’ll be back but it was fun and lovely while it lasted.

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