I was out for my evening walk when I spotted my new neighbor walking his dog.
He waved a greeting.
“Hello,” I caroled back cheerily. I drew in a big breath, which was accompanied by a large mosquito, which I promptly swallowed.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” the young man, a soldier from nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord, inquired with alarm.
“Choke. Chorrtly choke,” I replied with dignity.
I coughed and coughed until the little insect made his way back out — something the worse for wear. The mosquito wasn’t dead exactly, but he was certainly not improved by the experience.
For that matter, neither was I.
It’s summer, the season of outdoor adventures and delight and swallowing bugs. My friend Terri related that her gulp of coffee, after sitting unattended for a bit, seemed unexpectedly lumpy. That was because it contained a large fly.
How dangerous, I wondered, is bug ingestion?
My daughter, a nurse, shared the voice of experience: “We used to get that question in the ER a lot. Usually your stomach dispatches said insectoid to bug heaven.”
In fact, a lot of us swallow unexpected companions apparently, and most do no harm to the swallower, though it’s a lot harder on the swallowee.
How much danger are we in from swallowing insects? More than you’d imagine.
Dr. Bobbi Pritt, writing in The Wall Street Journal, discounted the folk tale that we all swallow a variety of insects while we sleep. That’s comforting. She points out that usually, it’s the bug that comes to a bad end and not the swallower. That’s comforting.
But there are exceptions.
A lot of bugs carry diseases and, for goodness sake, try not to swallow a cockroach. Pritt writes a blog called Creepy Dreadful Wonderful Parasites. She observes that it’s probably safest to cook your bugs first, but that’s only practical if you’re planning to serve bugs at dinner.
I could have avoided the whole thing by spraying myself liberally with insect repellent before setting out. Naturally, I don’t have any insect repellent, but in a situation like that, you can make your own.
Just fill a big spray bottle half full of vinegar, and then add any or all of these herbs: mint, lavender, catnip, sage or thyme, which, apparently, bugs can’t stand. I could then set serenely off into the outdoors, smelling like a tossed salad but bug free.
Summer has a way of taking us out of our element.
On a recent walk, I was joined for awhile by a small translucent brown salamander, plodding along on legs better suited for churning through the water (The salamander, not me). Clearly his in-laws nagged him to get out and get his load-bearing exercises in between rain showers.
According to the Burke Museum, he was a Northwestern Salamander and spends most of his time underground or under rotting logs. He just kept plodding. I know how he feels. He did the bug-swallowing on that walk, relieving me of the responsibility.
The long days of summer are dwindling fast. but there’s plenty of time to get in a few more unexpected catastrophes. If it’s not insects, it’s little kids.
A little boy stopped with his family to look at the ducklings strolling at Lakewood’s Fort Steilacoom Park.
“Hello, little duck family,” he greeted them politely, with a small bow.
His sister looked up at me and in a voice filled with awe said, “You’re OLD.”
Yeah? Go duck yourself, kid. I smiled sweetly, clutching my Tai Chi sword with dignity as I marched into the park for practice.
Another little boy stopped me wide-eyed.
“Is that a real sword?”
No, they only let me have a wooden sword. If I work hard, I might get a real sword one day, Probably not, though. I’m terrible with the sword. It will be my life’s work not to stab myself in the ankle during “parting the grass,” but at least we’re not much bothered by bugs.
What you really have to watch out for, said my daughter, is a Mexican cockroache getting in your ear – ewwww.
The grandkids are getting ready for college. What they don’t know yet is that you don’t ever get to stop learning and the problems are never completely solved.
In the meantime, look out for mosquitoes and keep your mouth shut.
Dorothy Wilhelm has added a feature to her podcast, “It’s Never Too Late/Swimming Upstream.”
The new feature, called “Let Me Tell You What I Think,” is styled after her column in The News Tribune and The Olympian. Each month, she will address an important or trivial subject, with stories, recollections and tips for getting through.
Her podcasts are available from Amanatee Radio Ear Network online at iTunes or www.itsnevertoolate.com. A new show airs each Sunday.
Shows are recorded at the Lakewood Senior Activity Center, 9112 Lakewood Drive SW, from 9 a.m.-noon on the fourth Friday of each month. Audience welcome.