I drove out into the wilderness, rode a tractor into the forest, stalked through the tall frozen grass into a grove of pines, and sawed down a six-foot fir tree. Snowflakes began to swirl in the air and the roads became blanketed in the light snow on the way home.
In town we stopped at the coffee house to have hot cocoa. Jingle bells rang as a horse trotted past tugging a carriage with passengers bundled in plaid scarves and wool coats. Early shoppers — the “not-last-minute” shoppers — carried gift bags out of nearby shops. Three elves and a man with a poodle stood on the sidewalk. The three elves held a three-foot-by-three-foot empty picture frame. You could stand behind the picture frame with the elves and have your holiday photo taken for $5.
Feeling energized by the season, we continued home and began to assemble the live Christmas tree. It took two days to get the live tree to stand up. I thought I was having a midlife crisis but later realized the tree stand was missing an important part and had to make a run to the store to buy a new holder. Once it was standing, we added our ornaments. This year we made two dozen ornaments by filling iridescent glass bulbs with paint and glitter and adorning the tops with bows, bells, and shiny ribbons.
In the second week, I awoke to a quiet house and sat down to have some personal time with our live Christmas tree. Just as I was sipping my hand-poured coffee, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. It was a bug. A big one.
I suppose with the admiration of the holiday season, I forgot that bugs would have been hibernating in the branches of the live tree.
It reminded me something I once read by John Muir. Muir wrote in 1938, “If one pine were placed in a town square, what admiration it would excite! Yet who is conscious of the pine-tree multitudes in the free woods, though open to everybody?”
Am I even conscious? I wondered. I asked Google, and Google said yes, and that 1,300 bugs are living in the average live Christmas tree. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t think of that little fact myself. If I’d been in the woods, I would have anticipated the bugs, but not so much in my living room!
The big bug was on the window behind the Christmas tree. I gasped in horror when I identified it as a full-grown female triatomine bug.
Triatomine bugs are fairly common. Also known as kissing bugs, they are of the same family as stink bugs but are a little bit larger. Most stink bugs feed on plant material but kissing bugs feed on blood, including humans, and can carry a parasite that causes Chagas disease. According to the CDC, 20 to 30 percent of people who become infected with Chagas disease develop debilitating or life-threatening health complications, such as heart abnormalities. Very little attention is given to the parasite that causes Chagas disease, and now the CDC considers it an NPI — a “neglected parasitic infection.”
Here’s the best part: I can’t kill bugs. It’s against my Buddhist principles. I believe that those bugs have souls of their own and that it’s not up to me to decide who lives and who dies. If anyone squashes a bug near me, I cover my ears and run away screaming. Every bug that has made it into my house has been trapped and released back outside with the exception of the black widow spider three weeks ago that jumped onto my lap: I threw that spider on the floor and poured bleach on it. Bleach doesn’t kill black widow spiders apparently, because it curled up and played dead for 15 minutes and then sprang back up off the floor.
I placed a cup over the triatomine bug and slid a Christmas card beneath it to trap it inside. I walked it outside and let it go, where I knew it would freeze in the grass and nature would take its course. I wished it farewell. It won’t get any blood presents from this Santa, just a natural death.
That’s one bug — I still haven’t accounted for the other 1,299.
A friend sent me a message and said that now people are using Uber (a ride-share service) to get transported to the hospital for $10 instead of calling an ambulance that may cost $3,000.
I signed up for Uber, just in case the bugs start winning.
Ashley may be contacted by email at email@example.com or by phone at (740) 313-0355 or connect on Twitter by searching Twitter.com for @ashbunton and send a message.