Alright, I have to tell you something. I wasn’t being entirely honest with you when I chose the title of this article. In fact, I was being rather sneaky. To deflect, I could go into all the various reasons why I would employ such a tactic, but I’m pretty sure you probably just want me to get to the point. So here it is. Prepare for chills and tense shoulders. I am writing this article to tell you the story about how, one summer, I was forced to overcome an ominous and paralyzing fear of bugs; yes, the ones that, in general, tend to scurry, tickle, bite, flutter, creep, slink, crawl and swarm, the ones we usually swat and squash at first sight. Now, I wouldn’t want you to think I’m one of those homesteading, dirt-worshiper types. And no, I’m not a tom boy. So, here’s the first part of the story, my best explanation of how I acquired bug-o-phobia.
I’ll start with me, the kid. As a young girl growing up in central Florida, I had my first fun-loving encounters with nature. The environment was wet, lush and green. I would roll down thick hills of freshly cut St. Augustine grass and watch puppies chase the lovebugs. Different varieties of palm trees grew in every neighbor’s beautifully maintained yard. Live oak trees were everywhere, like nature-inspired playgrounds for climbing. On hot summer nights outdoors, I remember having to be careful not to scratch the mosquito bites-turned-whelps from the previous night, or get the newly applied insect repellant near my mouth. If I was really bored, some days I’d see how many roly polies I could catch in the yard before they all uncurled and began tickling and crawling all over me. Instead of playgrounds, many weekends my family would simply take me to the beach. There, I’d run beneath the sea gulls, wade on the shore, spray my parents with shallow water kicks, dig up squirmy sand fleas, work endlessly on dribble castles, and feel the colorful conquinas, which we erroneously called periwinkles, wiggle beneath my fingertips in the sand.
When I was school aged, I went on the Mud Walk for the first time with a group of kids, which is when I saw my first snake in the wild, trying unsuccessfully to maneuver its way up a dirt embankment. Wekiwa Springs was also a family favorite, where the sand beneath the spring water held ancient treasures for kids, shark’s teeth! Countless times while outside at play, I’d suddenly find myself walking home in what seemed like almost daily rain showers. In the lightening capital of the world, even the most severe storms seemed uneventful.
I’m so thankful for these memories, of my time spent in nature. They’re the stuff good postcards are made of, you know? But, aside from my visits to the beach, I spent very little time actually physically interacting with nature. Like any average girlie-girl, if I saw a bug I squealed and proceeded to have a conniption fit. With water + recreation, I hardly ever even got dirty! For the most part, outside contact with nature was replaced with that of concrete, water and chlorine. I remember riding my bike down the flat sidewalks, swimming in our pool, going for walks with my mom and rollerblading around Sand Lake. I think I even learned how to scuba dive in a pool. When the gas prices were low, Mom and I used to go for hour-long drives in the car, just to roam. As an only child, I was many times otherwise watching old reruns on Nickelodeon, playing Nintendo, or over and over listening to Dancing on the Ceiling with the speakers on full blast, goofing off in an empty house.
While I had enough childhood friends, having no siblings meant that by the time I was in middle school, the thought of doing anything unsocial felt like a betrayal of self. I got so wrapped up in all the interesting and pretty people at school, that I was seriously taking nature for granted and becoming evermore isolated from it. My existence became more about acclimating to the human environment, learning how to navigate through relationships or overcome familial obstacles. At the same time, I was exploring American consumerism and entertainment, which meant figuring out what to buy, which shows and movies to watch, or what music I liked best. After all, all the magazines and TV Guides lying around pointed toward the importance of that reality. The internet culture was exploding, too, and oh yes, I definitely had a piece of that action. The natural world, in my mind, at least, might as well have consisted of grass, well-landscaped flower beds, tethered baby trees, silent in-house pet plants, and the Florida weather, of course.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point, I think I actually broke conscious ties with the environment altogether, believing the dynamic between us somehow trivial or childish. The spirit of my nature-loving self was caged and worn down by the pressures of society and culture. How could anyone be expected to learn such a vast body of knowledge about both natural environments and human ones?
When I was 16, we moved from Florida to Georgia. I became immersed in a new southern culture and became fascinated by a deeper awareness of spiritual things. Years went by. I went to college, where I got my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, learning the tiniest details about the living world, almost exclusively from books and lab experiments. Now, when I think about my choice in college major, I wonder if my subconscious was trying to lead me back to the earth itself. But instead, more familiar to me than the feeling of dirt between my fingers or sand beneath my feet became working with sterile equipment, petri dishes, growth mediums, nitrile gloves, chemical solutions, lab safety glasses, and MS Excel spreadsheets. By the time I finished my degree, I was even more detached and arguably much more fearful of the environment. Maybe I just didn’t learn enough from my wonderfully gifted, tree-hugging biology teachers.
The more I learned about the natural world, the less I trusted it. Unlike in homes, classrooms, and laboratories, the environment could not be as well-controlled or predicted. Like many of the ancient philosophers and great thinkers of today, I wasn’t interested in respecting nature, but in defying it. After all, I grew up in a society which above all valued ways to gain more control over life, with the least effort possible. Sure we accept how our perspective on the living world has changed. The creativity and determination of humanity’s collective intelligence have delivered a very comfortable lifestyle, one my whole existence was built upon. Any thing that doesn’t help us maintain daily peace, order, and security, or gain greater satisfaction and happiness might not have a place in my world.
Nature was a childhood book long ago placed on a high shelf, left for some other kid to find. And bugs? They were the living embodiment of an intimidating world outside my control.
Fortunately, nature evidently has a way of bringing us back to itself…
This was part 3 of the summer series, In the Heat of Things. If you dare, tune in next week, for the conclusion of Buggin Out, when, yes, I’ll actually talk about how I conquered the bugs! I warned you I was being sneaky…