The Aunts Go Marching Two by Two…
Where I come from my parents’ female siblings were my aunts. Pronounced ahnt, not ant. So, when I first moved here and someone told me her ant just got a new car, I laughed. And when another person told me his ant just moved into a retirement home, I really busted up. But when a third friend told me his ant was a farmer, I lost it completely Ant. Farmer. Too funny, I thought.
I no longer think the words “ant” and “farmer” are funny together.
“What’s all over your fingers,” my wife asked, as she took my hand romantically into her own.
“Aphid guts,” I said. Pat released my hand and headed for the bathroom sink.
With all the rain in the last few months, my bonsai trees were looking great. New foliage was growing so fast you could almost hear it. Beautiful shades of green. Brilliant in the morning sun. Then… “What the…?”
I peered into a brownish clump of foliage. I saw an ant. I stuck my finger into the branch. I saw several ants scurrying about. Peering closer I saw some black spots that looked like little black Volkswagens. I poked them. They squished. Now there were dozens of ants bumping antennae and running around everywhere including onto my hands and up my arms. They looked mad. Several seemed to be racing toward my neck. Heading for my jugular vein I figured. I flicked them all off and started checking other yellowing branches. More black squishys and more crazed ants. One of the black squishy things had fallen onto my bonsai shelf and was kicking blindly with tiny legs. Tree-eating VWs with legs. Swell!
I went in did a Google search for “friends of ants that screw-up plants.” Aphids came up on Wikipedia. “Some species of ants farm aphids, protecting them on the plants where they are feeding, and consuming the honeydew the aphids release from the terminations of their alimentary canals.” Gross! “This is a mutualistic relationship, with these dairying ants milking the aphids by stroking them with their antennae.” In public. On my trees. They should be arrested.
“These smart insects will protect aphids from natural predators by fighting them off.” They were going for my jugular! “If left to their own devices, aphids will deform and stunt your plants.” They’re bonsai. They are already as stunted as I want them to be!
That’s when I went to tell my wife the bad news and she could see that I was upset about something, so she had taken my hand. When she returned from the bathroom, I brought up the Wikipedia on my iPhone so I could show her why I had aphid guts on my fingers.
“That’s my phone and now you have aphid guts all over my screen? Yuk, yuk, yuk!”
I spit on her screen and rubbed it on my tee shirt. “Good as new.”
She took her phone tentatively between two fingers and mumbled her way into the kitchen looking for the Windex. Sounded like she said “men,” but I must have misheard her.
“You can often get rid of aphids by wiping or spraying the leaves of the plant with a mild solution of water and dish soap. Soapy water should be reapplied every 2-3 days for 2 weeks,” another gardening site had informed me. So, I mixed up batch on the kitchen counter.
“Did you use the entire bottle of dish soap?” Pat asked, as a mountain of bubbles covered the counter, the toaster, the microwave and my wife’s newly cleaned iPhone. “It said use a few drops.”
“Hm, missed that part.”
I took my bottle of death to the backyard. I held it behind my back, so as not to give the aphids and ants a running head start. “Here’s Johnny,” I said like Jack Nicolson in The Shining. I leaned into the first tree and sprayed a huge cloud of bubbles. The wind came up and blew the bubbles back into my eyes.
“Ahhh,” I yelled. Pat came running out with a wet towel and wiped the soap out of my eyes.
I blinked a few times. “You saved my life,” I said.
Pat smiled. “My ant was a nurse,” she said.
I could almost hear the aphids laughing in the background.