Spider - Crab...?

A few nights ago my husband was working on his motorcycle in the garage... I was summoned to help with holding parts and shining a flashlight in places. It was pretty fun - especially because it was the first night where I have been outside in a T-Shirt and jeans and not felt like I was going to suffocate from inhaling humidity or had sweat running down my back. Fall is finally getting here!!! I don't want to get my hopes up, but the past few mornings have been pretty cool as well - under 60! The days still get hot - around 80 degrees, but at least we are cooling off at night. 

Well - back to my adventure with an unknown bug in the garage. My husband points under the front fender of his bike and says, "Can you reach in there in grab that?" First of all, I didn't know what I was supposed to grab with those instructions. Secondly, all I could see was what I presumed was a spider hanging on its web under there! What? The spider?! I'm not sticking my hand in there... "Oh it's dead, just get it out of there," he tells me. Really? I don't think it's dead. 

My husband proceeded to blow on the bug. Which I still say was a spider since it had a web, but I've never seen anything like it before. Granted, it was hanging upside down, so I guess one might think it was dead... but it definitely started moving and of course panic ensued. I ran to the toolbox and grabbed a square. 

The thing wasn't big, and it seemed like it's back was heavy, so I used the square to scoop it out on its back and onto the ground. That's when it flipped over - revealing something I would call a shell! It was the weirdest thing! My husband messed with it and flipped it over as we were thinking what the H? You could hear the shell click on the ground and then it'd flip itself back over and try to run away. It was almost lumbering around... its gate (if you could call it that) reminded me a bit of a camel or elephant with one of those big saddle/tent things on their back. Very very strange.

We didn't realize it was still attached to its web and when it decided to pull itself back into the bike, I kind of freaked out. Don't worry, though. I got it back down onto the floor. "Should I kill it?" my husband asked. I don't know... It seemed like it might be hard to kill. He tested squishing it with the square and sure enough that shell was hard. I ended up just balancing it on the square and carrying it out a ways from the house and dumping it. I don't know. I've never seen anything like it and I didn't really want to kill it. That shell was probably full of babies or something and I'll regret letting it go, but it even had spikes coming off of it! Have you ever seen anything like this? It's probably poisonous and we northerners just had no idea.

And yes, I definitely DROPPED my nice camera in my rush to capture this. But it's okay and I think it was worth it. I really feel like this thing is a crab. But then it's black and has legs and a body that looked like a spider. And it was only the size of my fingernail... legs, shell and all. They aren't kidding when they tell you there are crazy bugs in Louisiana.


#1 Reason to Own a Cat in the South: Cockroaches

I don’t think I’ve written about the bug I loathe the most here yet… the cockroach. They’re usually about two inches (or more) in length and dark brown and disgusting. If you hear a crinkling noise like paper scratching on something… it’s probably a cockroach skittering along somewhere. I’ve gotten in the habit of searching the walls every time I hear a strange light scrape noise. Half the time it’s nothing, but the other half it’s a cockroach making its way down the wall. I immediately run for a shoe at that point and hope my cat keeps his eye on it so that I can find it and kill it when I get back with my weapon.

I know these nasty bugs are full of germs and can carry disease, so when I have smacked them enough times that their insides are oozing… I throw them outside, wipe up the disgusting, and Lysol the crap out of anywhere I saw it on the walls, and where it died. That might sound harsh, but you have to kill these suckers dead. And then you have to squish them a few more times, or I’m telling you they will take off and disappear while you’re going for a paper towel.

One time I was woken up in the wee hours of the night by my cat meowing and trying to reach up our walls. I finally roused enough to groggily flip on the light, and there was a huge cockroach running along the ceiling above my bed. It’s disgusting, and later caused me nightmares so I could hardly sleep there for days, but in that moment all I thought was: shoe. I have to grab one of my husband’s shoes because they’re bigger and heavier, and try to smash that thing before it disappears under some furniture or in the closet. I ran for the shoe as my cat tracked its every move from the top of our tall dresser. I had to climb up there too, to be able to reach the ceiling. Of course, as you swing for them they see you. They run towards you, or they drop and flutter their wings and freak you out. This one did a little of both and I jumped off the dresser backwards and landed on my feet, crouched and stunned… and checking that I was okay for a second. My brain was so fuzzy I could hardly comprehend what I’d just done. And then there was my cat again – going for the bottom of the dresser… and out the other side ran the ‘roach. I got him. I pounded the ground so hard I’m sure our downstairs neighbors woke up. I was sure it was dead – a leg was off and it was on it’s back and seemed pretty broken up. I ran for the paper towel to clean up, and when I returned … the cockroach was gone. Not to panic – I found it about 2 feet away from where I’d killed it [or so I had thought] – apparently making a break for it. I smashed it again and again and finally threw it outside.

There are so many stories like this I could probably write a book about the adventures we have with cockroaches here in the south. But, all in all, they are really just disgusting and quick and resilient bugs. And they make me incredibly thankful for my cat. He can smell them. He’ll sit in the center of a room and sniff at the air, and I know he’s checking for intruders. Man, if he picks one up, it’s over. It may take a while, and some cooperation on us humans’ part, but he has never let one go.

The best example of this happened just last week. We buy the long 12-can boxes of soda and store them on the floor near our kitchen… due to the lovely lack of storage that military housing provides here. One morning, the cat was really hanging out around those boxes. He was sticking his arm in and reaching around and I tried to distract him, thinking he was just bored. He didn’t give it up, so I pulled the box out into the middle of the room – thinking that he gets persistent like this when there’s a bug (and maybe a bug had passed by there and was gone now). I tapped and bumped the box and listened for any tell-tale skittering that would mean a cockroach was inside. All was silent. I proceeded to get my breakfast things together and was dawdling in the kitchen when I noticed that now my cat was pushing his face through the finger opening in the box (for carrying when you buy it). His whole face was inside and he was working on getting his ears through there! I told him, “okay, okay… what do you think is in here?” and grabbed a pair of scissors. On second thought, I also grabbed a shoe. Then I split the box along the top from the finger hole – the whole time fighting my cat back from getting in there as he was very anxious to see what was inside. Sure enough, I pulled the flap back and there was a cockroach crawling up the box flap RIGHT THERE! AAAaah! I was lucky enough to flip in out onto the ground and then proceeded to smash the daylights out of it. Literally. Gross! But necessary. Of course my cat watched intensely and was a little disappointed that he didn’t get to do the dirty work, but I was determined that this ‘roach wouldn’t get away. I then proceeded to Lysol the entire box of cans. And later I instructed my husband to pour any of the soda from that box into a glass when we drank it. So gross!

And those are only two of my encounters with nasty cockroaches. I am so tired of living in Louisiana.


Mud Bugs

First off, have you heard of crawfish? Maybe crawdads? Living up in the Northwest, I had heard of them. We usually refer to them as crawdads up there, but either works. I vaguely remember my mom showing me one swimming along in a river or stream up there even. Well, down here in the South, they are a main delicacy. A staple to many standard southern dishes, Louisianans love their crawfish.

I’ve learned that their harvest is seasonal, their tails taste pretty good, and the locals like to suck the juices of melted fat from around their heads and their brains. I guess that’s the best part. I doubt I’ll ever be able to expand on that – I really don’t have any desire to suck the juices off of a crawfish brain.

The most interesting thing I’ve learned about these little creatures is that they don’t live only in water. Nope. They can live in your yard – in the ground. It's true! Don’t believe me? Goggle it. You’ll find links where people ask how to get rid of them and get them to stop digging up their yards. Crazy! They make little mud mounds and apparently are most prominent in eastern Texas and Louisiana, but I guess they appear across the south in ground where the water table is quite high and the climate is wet with humidity. Pretty much everywhere down here haha. You can see their little mud mounds along the road in a few spots near where we live. I actually learned about all this because one of the guys stationed here was digging up a small circle in his backyard for a fire pit, and he found 3 crawfish in the dirt! I really didn’t believe it, so I did a bit of research and sure enough – it’s not uncommon down here! What a strange place… yet another reason not to walk outside barefoot! Not only are there nasty spiders, mean fire ants, and cockroaches – there just might be a “mud bug” out there ready to pinch your toes!


Lesson Number One: Water

There are quite a few lessons I’ve learned since moving to Fort Polk. I will write a few out in my coming posts, but the first thing you need to know if you are going to be living here is: DON’T DRINK THE WATER!

Now, I have never been one to pay for water. That seems ridiculous to me. Why would I spend money for a bottle, when I can just fill my glass at the faucet? I took for granted that I lived in the Northwest and the water not only tasted good, it was safe to drink.

I’m not kidding. You may want to re-evaluate your grocery budget because this place is hot and it is humid, and you are going to want store-bought water on hand at all times. If you drink the water from the faucet here, you run the risk of getting a nasty H. pylori infection. I know that sounds a little crazy – water here in the United States isn’t safe to drink?! What! I couldn’t believe it when I found out. But, sadly it is true. A woman here got so sick from it she had to be on medical treatment for nearly 6 months, couldn’t eat hardly anything during that time and couldn’t even leave the house for a while because she was so weak and ill. She has since recovered, but I wouldn’t want to risk going through all of that pain.

If threat of bacterial infection isn’t enough to loosen your wallet for bottled water, consider this: I bought a showerhead that filters water. A showerhead. Why? Because if you shower in this water unfiltered, sometimes it can smell so bad that your hair even has a lingering scent of sulfur. I’m originally from a place near Yellowstone National Park. I know my sulfur smell, and this water has got it. What’s disconcerting is it isn’t a constant. It comes and goes. On some days, you can smell it from the faucet when you just wash your hands. Weird. Gross. And if it’s not a sulfur scent, I can guarantee it will be an overpowering chlorine smell. Sooo… either you smell like you fell in a hot-pot, or you smell like you just got out of the pool. Take your pick. Invest in a showerhead that filters all that junk out!

Another thing that happens here a lot: boil advisories. Personally, I thought cutting water lines to residencies was a pretty rare thing. Here it seems to happen pretty frequently and I usually never find out about a boil advisory until after the fact. Seriously – their way of notifying us is sticking a Xerox copy into our garage door handle. How often do I run outside and check my garage door to see if I can use the water in my home? I don’t know – it seems like there should be a better way to warn people. If the faucet starts coughing at you and lots of bubbles come out with the water… or the water turns dark yellow to brown while it’s running… that’s when they’ve recently cut your water lines. The last time it happened on our street, I found out because my toilet was making so much noise I had to leave my office to check on it. I was shocked to find that the water in the bowl was DARK BROWN! Eeew – so disgusting. It smelled like rust and dirt and the toilet just kept running! Luckily it didn’t overflow, but I was getting worried. My cat even had to check it out and warily kept watch outside the door. Once I was sure that the lines were reconnected, I ran the water from every faucet for at least 10 minutes straight. Only then did the water start to run clear. But still, do you think it’s really clean enough to drink at that point? They lift our boil advisories in a few hours and even state on the notices that they don’t believe it’s really dangerous to drink that water as it is. Seriously?! That stuff smells so rank and you don’t think there’s anything wrong with it? Yet another reason to not trust this place or the “regulations” that they follow to ensure things are safe for us.

Don’t worry – there’s not much to do around here. You can afford to take care of your health and pay for your water! I highly recommend it. I was drinking faucet water the first 8 months that I lived here and I always felt a bit sick. One easy solution to some of the nastiness here – purchase water.


Spider War Rages On

One of my friends suggested I get a can of Raid to help manage the spider situation around our place. While I was working, I looked up and saw a nasty little spider crawling on the outside of my window. It was a quick one that reacted to my movement even inside, so I grabbed the can of Raid and ran outside. I gave it a good dose and sprayed around the window to discourage future visitors. Since there was quite a bit of the poison floating around out there, and a couple dead bugs along with the spider, I didn’t want to let my cat out until the fumes had dissipated and I’d swept the poisoned bugs away.

A few days passed before I got around to going out there again… I really don’t like to anymore after all the spiders started showing up. After I got home from the pool one afternoon, my cat was crying by the sliding glass door so I decided it was time to finally sweep the balcony off so he could play outside again. Realize that I was in a bikini and flip flops when I opened the door and took the first step onto the balcony… overhead was clear, first glance to the left… not clear.

In an instant, my brain took in the new web surrounding the little outdoor light fixture – odd since we destroyed all the webs out there a month ago. Then, my mind registered what was under this web… the biggest spider I have ever encountered besides the tarantulas you see in a pet store. This thing was huge, dark and I was feeling very exposed. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Was all I could formulate as I blocked my cat’s exit onto the balcony. Nooo, not today. I shut the door and stood there, trying to remain calm.

I was home by myself, but I knew that a chance like this may not present itself in the near future and I would just end up worrying about where the spider was hiding if I didn’t take care of it. Problem: I don’t know if it’s poisonous, fast, jumping, or how it will react if I confront it. Solution: jeans, hoodie, and rain boots as quickly as possible. I rolled up my jeans so they were just covering the tops of my boots. No reason to give the spider access to fall in a boot, or climb up my pants. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my hair, and after thinking twice I left it untied. No reason to trap myself in it if I had to whip it off quickly! Then I remembered my leather gardening gloves – excellent! I grabbed the Raid and the fly swatter and headed out to battle.

The big spider was still there – just sitting under her thick web. I was kind of in awe of how large it was, and the fact that it was still there and I was about to confront it. I decided to stand on our patio chair so I could be at a better height to spray the Raid directly on my nemesis, and so I wouldn’t have to jump around if it fell to the ground and started running around. Of course I dawdled just a moment too long and I saw it start to move and slowly it disappeared behind the light fixture – just as I started to douse it with Raid. It was gone. I couldn’t tell if there was a hollow spot in the fixture or a hole in the wall, but the spider had completely disappeared.

I coated the entire fixture with Raid. It was dripping. Then I took the fly swatter and stuck it between the fixture and the wall and scraped up and down and jiggled it around. I still saw nothing, so I squirted the Raid in the crack again. I banged on the fixture. Nothing. Sigh… well the exterminator who had visited our place had mentioned that Raid was a good idea for dealing with spiders because even if they ran away after you sprayed them, they would still die.

Back inside, I inspected the wall opposite the exterior light fixture. I repeated to myself that the Raid should still kill it, as I looked at the air vents in the ceiling and wondered at the construction of our military housing. Nah – cockroaches come in that way, but probably not spiders… right? I sat in my husband’s office chair for a few minutes contemplating what to do. Rain boots off. Gloves off. Sweatshirt off. Try to put it out of my mind. I wandered back towards the glass door to see if I could see anything out there on the wall now. Nope, but as my eyes glanced down to the floor, there was the giant!!! It was crawling along the outside of the doorframe – reaching towards the glass at one point even! Then it started to crawl along parallel and away from where I would have to open the door to get outside again.

I raced to my rain boots and slipped them on as my cat trotted along beside me. I also thought to grab my camera - along with the Raid. The camera wasn’t useful because as soon as I stepped outside, the lens fogged up with humidity. It wasn’t going to clear up anytime soon with the intense humidity out there, so I gave up on the picture attempt. I jumped up on my chair and started shooting. The spider was in the corner near the door still, and it starting running forward towards me. I held that spray on it in a constant stream! I had a little jolt of fear as it continued forward, but then I saw it crumple back – finally! Take that you monster! It shrunk back from my spray, but was still kicking. I was determined not to squish this one, so I could try to identify if it was one of the poisonous varieties common around here. It was dying, but not quickly. After I thought it was dead for sure, it flung its two front legs forward and started clawing itself out of the Raid puddle. Too bad… I still had it in my sights! Once it had stopped moving completely and the legs crunched in toward the body in the typical dead-spider pose, I investigated its markings. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t poisonous. I left it out there so my husband could see what I had taken care of while he was out. I snapped a pic of it crumpled up and dead through the door too.

It’s still out there. A warning to any future invaders. I. Will. Kill. You. Spiders not welcome!


West Coast Differences

Coming from the North-West to a place like Fort Polk, Louisiana can be quite a culture shock. I have tried to explain this to my new friends here, and I thought we all were on the same page about things… No one really likes being stationed here; we all have our moments of complaining about anything and everything awful about this place. It turns out though, some eye-opening facts were revealed to my good friend when she finally traveled to the West Coast for the first time.

This friend of mine is another Air Force wife stuck on this Army base. She is unique in that she is from Germany, and met and married her husband when he was stationed there for a few years. Since then, her experience of the United States has consisted of being stationed in North Carolina and now Louisiana. She has also traveled through to Northern Florida a few times since that is where her in-laws reside. I’m giving you this background because hearing her exclamations regarding her trip to the other side of the country not only made me laugh hysterically, but also made me realize how truly different life down here is… a foreign eye seeing things for the first time gives a clear impression of the minute details that my mind now neglects to even take note of. I’ve traveled through most of the U.S. by now, and I am well aware that we are a nation of many many differences.

I happened to be shopping in the Commissary (the grocery store on “Post” [base] for you non-military types) when I got a call from my friend. She and her family had arrived that day to the San Diego area. It was a horrible day for me to go pick up groceries; I have never gone on pay-day and I apparently hit it right on the nose. The place was packed, there were probably 3 loaves of bread left in the bread aisle (luckily I did not need bread), and there were tons of Army Joes in uniform and pregnant girls pushing overflowing carts around. Lovely.

I was trudging up and down the aisles trying to maneuver my own cart around kids and away from the hurried shoppers in uniform, when my friend started raving to me about how nice California is. She asked if I’d ever been there, and I told her that I have – to L.A. and when I was little my family went to Disneyland and the Red Wood Forest. “Oh my goodness!” she says, “I can’t believe how nice it is!” At this point I couldn’t help but laugh – she was so excited. I mentioned that she was finally seeing another American culture and she stated that she had told her husband she could not believe she was still in the same country.

“See,” I said, “now you can understand a little more of where I’m coming from when I say it’s so different down here.”

“Yes, I can! I finally really understand what people mean when they say California is so nice and clean! And now I have an idea of what you mean about the West Coast being so different and how hard it is to be down there…” I was so happy that she was getting to see another part of the U.S. I can only imagine what her entire opinion of our country had been before this, as the next words out of her mouth were, “You know, we are staying kind of near the airport, which is usually not such a good area in a city, right? [yeah] But you know what? We’ve driven around here – about an hour from the main city – and I still don’t think I’ve seen a single trailer.” She wasn’t trying to be funny, but I lost it. Right there in the middle of the commissary, I could not stop laughing. I couldn’t help myself! She just continued right on, “And there are no yards with cars broken down in them, and trash laying around. It’s so nice here!”

“I know! Now you know why I hate it here so much!” Okay, so if you don’t want dirty glances you probably shouldn’t say that in the middle of the commissary. But I didn’t care!

I was laughing so hard at her descriptions of things here and how she was seeing a place lacking the broken down buildings and overgrown yards full of trash and old vehicles that I forgot what I was even shopping for. I was just pushing my cart around and finally when I had heard all about the beautiful West Coast and the yummy In-n-Out burger and fries, I got back to my shopping. As I rounded a corner past a line of shoppers waiting to check out, some Army dude in uniform stares at me and says, “Hey. You trying to check out?” Umm… no, I am not an idiot trying to cut off your line. I’m trying to shop around the masses of people packed in this place. I only told him no and that I was just trying to get to an item, but that is the attitude of an Army “soldier” that I have seen way too many times. Some wanna-be hot-shot with a couple of bars on his sleeve. I, quite frankly, do not care. I’m Air Force. I don’t have to take your crap. I just have to live here with the Army.

Back to the current story… I’m not claiming that there are only trailers in the South. There are trailers even in California. But, places are kept much nicer in general than what I have seen down here. The over-grown trashed houses, trailers and vehicles are a breed of their own in the deep heat. So much so, that I have taken a brief tour photographing things, so that you might also understand a bit more what it truly means to say: “Things are so different down here in Louisiana.”

Trailers can be abandoned, trash can be left, weeds will overtake anything here if you let them. Foundations can be made of a few stacks of cinder blocks or bricks. How do you think a trailer standing up on cinder blocks in the middle of spindly-tall trees will fair through a hurricane? Just think about it. I hope you enjoy my snap-shots. I didn't travel outside of a 15 mile radius here for any of these... it's not like I had to go searching. This is what we see on a daily basis. Lovely Louisiana.


Daddy LongLegs

I hate the bugs in Louisiana. I could fill many a post with the grossness of cockroaches and other nasty creepy crawlies down here, but lately my biggest enemy has been the so-called "daddy longleg" spider. I put that in quotes, because up to this point I have had a much different idea of what a daddy longleg is. At home, these spiders have wispy thin legs and itty-bitty bodies; their leg-span is rarely much larger than a half-dollar and they are easily killed with a quick swat. Not so in Louisiana. 

The southeastern U.S. variety of these spiders is huge! Their leg-span diameter is usually between 3 and 5 inches (and yes, I am looking at a ruler to be sure I am not exaggerating). Not only are their legs much longer than the daddy longlegs I'm familiar with, they are also thicker and have distinct joints in them. Their bodies are about the size of two peas - maybe a circular lima bean if you're trying to picture it. Now imagine trying to kill that. Or finding it on your wall.

We have a small closed-in balcony attached to our apartment. My husband and I decided it would be nice to get a few plants for around our house and outside on the balcony – to make it a bit more homey. I picked out a great little hanging plant with chubby leaves that looked like it should be able to handle the 90+ degree weather we’ve been having. Apparently it looked like a great oasis to some daddy longleg spiders too.

Now, I generally leave these spiders alone because they don’t hurt anyone and they just kind of hang out in their one spot forever. Well, over the next few days about 5 or 6 started congregating on the beam right above this plant, and I decided it was time to do something. I was getting jittery trying to water the thing with all of them sitting up there! I have a spray bottle full of water for the plants, so I filled that up and started shooting at the spiders. They were too high up for me to swat and I really didn’t want to attempt it and have them end up falling directly on me, so this seemed like a good idea. It worked, but it took quite a lot of water to get each one to fall down. At which point I squished them of course. This took multiple swats with a fly swatter – they just lay down and then get up and run away after you’ve smacked them! I had to finish a few off with my shoe. I couldn’t get all of them to fall down, so one or two were left behind, but I was satisfied with thinning them out.

The next morning the humidity outside was so high that the windows had too much condensation on them to see out. My husband was gone on a training exercise, so my cat and I meandered to the kitchen for some breakfast. The sliding door to the balcony looked strange, but then again there was condensation covering it. My cat enjoys going out there to look at the birds and squirrels and soak up some heat, so he cried and cried at the door, until I was finally convinced to come over.

Oh. My. Goodness. There were at least 6 giant daddy longlegs on the door jamb. Their legs had made spindly designs in the fog on the door, and they were setting their bodies as closely to the crack between inside and out as they could. I swear – they have declared war ever since I killed those few above my plant! They remained there, guarding the sliding door for the next 4 days while I waited for my husband to get home to kill them. I was afraid to open the door and have them sneak in! I snapped a couple of pictures of a few – see the picture to the right.

Well… War it is. I kill every single bug I find now. Whether I’m inside or out – this place is crawling with them and anything I can do to lower the general population of nastiness here, I will do! Just yesterday, I was starting my work and for the first time there was a daddy longleg INSIDE, sprawled out above my head on our hallway wall. I got the broom and smashed that m*f*er. On the way to put the broom back, there was another one crawling by my cat’s toys. Smashed that one too. There never seems to be just one instance of a pest here. If there’s one spider inside, there’s undoubtedly another you will find in the same day. I later found out that my husband had found one in the shower that morning too!

On a different note, the heat and humidity have claimed my hanging plant as a victim. As I trucked it down to the trash can, I noticed it had other spiders lurking in the dying leaves... icky light orange ones with skinny bodies and fat heads. Yuck.

Lovely Louisiana.