Monday, August 1, 2016

Up the Lake: Bugs Part 3

Other insect related adventures were also connected to a club.  This time, the location of the rocks was directly behind Nick’s kitchen.  For anyone wondering, how this qualified as “far from being viewed by wherever the parents are hanging out?”
We spent most of our time there during the day while everyone else was down the Lake.

The first order of business was deciding that this was going to be a club focused on nature…

No, I take that back.

The first order of business was Nick and Skip having a massive argument about who was going to be President and who was going to be Vice President. This stemmed not from any responsibility, since we had none, but from the notion that the President got the larger rock to be his club office, and the Veep had to make due with a smaller one.

Being a lifelong geek and missing the competition gene, I avoided the entire issue by proclaiming myself “Science Officer” and claiming a smaller rock on the other side of the club for my lab.

Nick eventually became President based on the unbreakable argument of, “It’s my cabin.”   Therefore the largest and most comfortable rock went to his sister, Chrissy.

She was the Secretary/Receptionist and stated she needed that office because it would be the first thing people saw when they came in. This turned out to be valuable training for my real job, and explained why our receptionist had a monitor large enough that she could angle it flat and play solitaire on it with real cards instead of using the built in program, which I believe is the most advanced graphics she used on her machine.

Our locations settled, we focused on helping nature.  The mission statement of the club this time was to find injured animals in the woods and nurse them back to health.  Considering this was the same summer we also wandered the woods on several BB gun hunts, we were either hypocritical, or attempting to supply our own demand.

Whether hunting or helping, we found no birds, deer or any other animals in need of assistance, or being shot that year. That meant we were forced to attend to the readily accessible insect population.

Initially, this consisted of catching a couple of bugs, and putting them in my “Insect Zoo.”  That’s a pretty grand name for a small, clear sided bucket with a lid, air holes and the world’s least realistic plastic leaf in the center.  Our goal was to determine the outcome of gladiatorial style battles between different species.  Considering the way we attempted to generate this behavior was by cheering them on, it was about as successful as any of our other ventures.

The true excitement came when, in a fit of obviously forgetting who she was dealing with, the owner loaned us (or mostly me, the supposedly respectable one) an ancient tome from her kindergarten classroom:  1001 Bug Experiments.

No crawly critters were safe from our scientific curiosity. 

The largest problem with the book…

Not counting
A) Its existence at all.
B) The fact that we had it.

Was that the experiments all called for uniquely specific species.

Up the Lake most assuredly had an extremely high concentration of insect life form per square foot.  However, it’s not like there was a pull down menu of bug availability.

In general, we’d find a cool sounding procedure, and go scrounging for substitutions.

The suspended animation demonstrations caught our eyes.  They detailed how walking stick metabolism was keyed to temperature and heating or cooling them would cause them to instantly go into hibernation.  We read the details about how low temperatures were safer, using a refrigerator or freezer but if the high temperature was carefully controlled it would work as well using an oven on a low setting.

There were three key obstacles to our foray into arthropod cryogenics:

#1) There was no way our mothers would let us put bugs in their refrigerators.
#2) There was less than no way our mothers would let us put bugs in their ovens.
#3) I saw exactly two walking sticks Up the Lake in my entire life, both when I was an adult.


We decided a daddy long leg was a good approximation, since they were both gangly.  As is plainly visible, no science was spared in our evaluations.

With access to hermetically sealed self-cooling systems banned, we sought alternate chilling locations.  In what may, or may not be connected with previous experience, we knew we could sneak into the beer cooler without being seen. 

Hey, were you aware that a refrigerator keeps its contents cold due to its workings and power source, which somehow magically involves fire for the Up the Lake gas ones?  However, a cooler works on an entirely different principal. It keeps things cool by having the heat energy from them absorbed by melting ice.   For the science fans following along, melting is the key word here.

We did not learn anything about daddy long legs’ temperature controlled hibernation.

We did learn they are not waterproof, and are terrible swimmers.

Fortunately, (or unfortunately for the subjects) there was the other end of the heat spectrum.

With the overabundance of both daddy long legs and campfires in our collective knowledge base, we were well acquainted with the high “flash potential” those little buggers had when wandering too close to a flame.  Another substitution was needed.

Since ovens were banned, campfires lacked the low level control we needed, and barbecues combined both problems, we thought our scientific curiosity would never be sated. 

Fortunately, (again, probably not) one of the barbecue-ers left a Coleman lantern on the table. Heated by twin mantles, its metal top became a makeshift hot plate and experimental tool.

We found one of the small, black August heralding crickets, and prepared to adjust his metabolism.  Ever mindful of the “carefully controlled” warning about the heat, we looked for a way to protect the volunteer(ish) test subject. 

Possibly inspired by the submerged daddy long leg, we divined that if we liberally dipped our little friend into a nearby puddle before briefly placing him on the experimental surface, the water would cool him enough to allow us to keep him alive, and see if he hibernated.

When the fiasco was finished we all did realize that it hadn’t rained in quite a while, and the “protective puddle” was, in reality, grease drippings from the barbecue we were in no way allowed to put bugs on.

If we had figured that out ahead of time, the Kentucky Fried Cricket would have been far less of a surprise.

In general, while conflicts with the insect population were inevitable, most of us learned to co-exist.  There were some exceptions for the most diehard entomophobes.

Uncle Ackie was the poster child for the Italian polar opposite of calm and controlled under normal circumstances.   His insect encounters raised things up several notches.  Some thought it was one of his many jokes when he wore his mosquito netted safari hat, but those who were closer to him knew better.

Bolting out down the hill without refastening himself because a small flying creature joined him in the outhouse was fairly close to normal Up the Lake levels of ridiculous.

Seeing moths in the bedroom and deciding to drive home to the Bronx was above and beyond those limits, however.  His wife thinking he must have gone out for pizza…
In the middle of the night…
In the woods…
Was an equally interesting reaction to the evening.

His crowning meeting with the insect order came when a bee entered his vehicle and he immediately jumped out.  No, this was not a sunny afternoon Up the Lake with him leaping from his own car.   He was driving a gravel truck through the middle of Manhattan, and stopped traffic for many blocks until he was able to convince an incredulous police officer to “shoo it out” before he would reenter the cab of his truck.

Most others came to terms more easily.

Later in the same post-toddling summer as the “inchworm incident” that started this story, my far more relaxed daughter spied a tiny, brown inchworm hanging from its thread.

She calmly and sweetly said, “Hello little inchy-worm!”

We watched it for a bit, had a fine time, and then she decided to “let it go on its merry way.”

I looked over at her a bit perplexed, but before I could ask the questions forming in my mind, she flatly stated:

"Only the green ones have laser beams."

Yes, that is her holding the daddy long leg above.  Improvements continued.

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