Stink Bugs And Stinking Thinking
Last week I found what turned out to be invasive Southern Green Stink Bugs in the garden and now I can’t get them put of my mind; they seem like a perfect metaphor for the state of the nation and perhaps the world. As summer rolls on, I’ve been watching the way each day’s fresh new horrors pile up, obscuring those that occurred a month or two ago. The relentless arrival of more bad news every single day feels like a tactic designed to keep us anxious and enraged. The flood of evil takes our minds off pushing for real change as each successive concern washes away the previous ones. It feels important to stop and add things up, looking for core issues. It’s not difficult to find them, since most relate to racism, white supremacists, the war on the poor, kleptocracy, and/or the war on the environment. What these in turn boil down to is an old, old truth: the love of money really is the root of all evil. Read power for money and it all makes sense. When money is power, addictive wealth hoarding becomes an overwhelming obsession that kills off every spark of human decency and compassion. People in power get hooked and anyone or anything that interferes with their accumulation of more more more is seen as an obstacle to be removed, stripped of value. That thinking just stinks in my spirit, like the stink of cancerous lesions or rotting compost that’s not getting enough air.
I’ve been watching with dismay as a flood of new affronts push the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor out of the news and the Black Lives Matter movement out of America’s awareness. Even the recent release of the bodycam footage of George Floyd’s murder barely made a ripple in mainstream media and that’s no accident. The ongoing peaceful BLM protests in Portland and elsewhere get little coverage, though any violence is widely reported. Back in July (seems like years ago), there was concern that the largely white Wall of Moms and Dads With Leafblowers brigades were taking attention off the essential BLM message. I wondered about that too, but I also saw that, often for the first time, middle class white people who considered themselves progressive and not racist were directly experiencing and/or seeing on all kinds of social media the vicious treatment by the police, treatment that’s all too familiar to Black, Indigenous and People of Color. I heard many stories of wake up calls from folks who suddenly got a tiny, momentary glimpse of what it’s like not to have automatic White Privilege. The shock! The outrage! I’ve got very mixed feelings about this displacement, yet I’m also feeling that anything that acts as a significant and lasting wake up call to middle class white America is valuable and ultimately helpful. For a lot of us not-racist white folks, becoming actively anti-racist is clarifying and energizing. If it’s not a comfortable process, it is most definitely salutary.
Five Calls, Five Minutes
Wake up calls are especially enriching if they lead us to positive action. With so much to be worried, frightened and/or enraged about, it’s easy to let the floods of badness overwhelm our spirits. Depression and anxiety are at all time highs in America, and not just because the pandemic is warping our world. With more down time, many of us get caught up in obsessive news-following (who, me?), which is not designed to make us feel peaceful or powerful. One excellent way to deal with the multitude of issues is to take them just a few at a time. Among the best tools I know of for making sure that our protests and concerns are heard by people who can do something about them is Five Calls. This volunteer organization provides a full palette of important current issues from which to pick and choose. When you select a topic, you’ll get contact information for relevant elected officials as well as thoroughly researched scripts for you to follow or alter to suit your own ideas. I like the scripts myself, as I tend to choke up and start crying when I try to talk about SO MANY THINGS these days.
Calling works because all calls to elected officials are tracked by staffers, who record both the messages and the number of callers. It’s been amply demonstrated that a flood of angry callers can change the their thinking and change their vote. Also, the right has long established paid phone banks to fight against any and all progressive legislature and action, so it takes equal or more pressure to balance out the haters. Each call takes about a minute, so you can get them done with your morning coffee and feel like you are taking positive action, not just passively fuming.
To learn more and/or sign up for the app, follow this link:
About Those Stink Bugs
If you’re freaking out about Asian Giant Hornets, bee killers that pack a bullet-like sting, calm down. So far, only a few have been found near the Canadian Border (Blaine and Custer), but Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologists are asking us to take pictures and report any possible examples. They are NOT asking us to kill bumblebees; sadly, over-enthusiastic folks have been waging war on the wrong insect, killing valuable, gentle bees that are prime pollinators. However, please DO be on the watch for Southern Green Stink Bugs (Nezara viridula), bright green, shield-shaped insects that develop black and white spots on their bottom half as they mature. I recently found some of these admittedly beautiful bugs on Bainbridge Island. When ID’d on line, I discovered that they are also being tracked by the WSDA as recent and worrisome invasive pests for farmers as well as gardeners.
I sent my pictures to Chris Looney, a WSDA entomologist, who confirmed the identification. When I asked Dr. Looney what to do about them, he suggested tossing them in a bucket of soapy water; of course you can also stomp them, but they aren’t called stink bugs for nothing. A few days later, I took a bucket of soapy water back to the bugs’ site and found that the handful I’d originally seen had produced scads of tiny babies, glossy black with bright white spots. Yikes! It took me an hour to trim back all the plants they were now on and vigorously shake the stems over the nearby sidewalk. This probably odd appearing activity prompted quite a few passersby to stop and ask me what the heck I was doing to those poor weeds. When I showed them the insects, they mostly squirmed and left rather abruptly. As I whacked the leafy stems, the bugs young and old fell of and scurried about and into the soapy water they went. Sadly, I’m very sure that I missed at least a few, which fell into the compost mulch in the beds.
If you find any of these invasive bugs in Washington State, please report them here: invasivespecies.wa.gov/report.shtml
In Oregon and California, contact your State Department of Agriculture to report invasive bugs.
Don’t Dawdle, Act Now
Had I known in time what they were, I could have nipped this local invasion in the egg. Sadly, it took me a few days to go back and get pictures, then figure out where to send them. After getting a response, it took a couple more days before I found the time to deal with the stinky pests. I hate to think my dawdling may have costly repercussions but of course it certainly could. Acting quickly seems more difficult these days, as the pandemic, social distancing, and self isolating keeps our overloaded brains too busy to think clearly and act decisively. This morning, however, I read a news item that made me determined to get my act together. It was a poignant and painful first-person story from a Black woman who was sitting in a public outdoor space, looking at her phone, when a car pulled up and the driver yelled a racist epithet. It was clearly aimed at her, since she was the only Black person in sight. The white people around her, young, old, male, female, all totally ignored the driver’s abusive comment.
Nobody spoke up. Nobody said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” Nobody said, “That must feel terrible.” Nobody said, “What a horrible experience for you; it felt horrible to me too.” Nobody said a word or even gave her a sympathetic look. Where did this happen? When? It happened right here, today and yesterday and the day before. It happened right here, right now. Here’s my take away from this true story: May I never ignore an opportunity to speak up in support of anyone who is being abused or bullied. Never.