There is no better way to remember the world is full of living things than to spend the summer with doors open in an old French farmhouse. There are mice. Ants marching. Lizards lounging. Flies frenzying. And mosquitoes looking for blood.
Modern conveniences like A/C are rare, window screens like a needle in a haystack, and so the only way to cope is to learn how to co-exist. You can’t have a 100% open door policy but without open doors and windows some of the time, you won’t survive the heat. And, one of the best perks of summer is the blurring of indoor/outdoor living. I can’t help but notice how each of these little critters is teaching me something not only about country living but living in general.
The mice made their debut in the winter. I’ve laid at least a dozen of them to rest. It’s virtually impossible to secure every nook and cranny of an old stone farmhouse. Mortar gives way after years of service. Plus, old farmhouses require an acceptance of living with some dust and so a little extra chewing on the stone walls is hardly a reason for alarm. Mouse droppings and the pathogens it carries, along with the late night scampering, is however good reason to fight to keep them out.
Shifty and nimble, mice excel at hiding with the slightest noise or light. The only way you’d ever see them face to face is if you were to come upon them with surprise or set a trap. So when it comes to evicting mice, the best and only defense is a good offense. In a similar way, we are good at hiding deep seated resentments or hurts. They only surface when we are provoked or cornered. But without a good offence for them, like rodents, the virus their droppings leave behind risk becoming airborne. And resentments, like mice, are breeding machines.
The ants are a different story. They have absolutely no problem being seen. They are happy to march in, at any time, in any room for the smallest morsel left behind. It didn’t take long to figure out that trash cans without lids was like inviting the entire congregation. Sure there are chemical solutions like ant spray to make them go away but the easiest solution for keeping the ants outside where they belong is much more basic. Keep a lid on it. Get a plate. Wipe the table. Sweep the floor. Unfinished business has a way of attracting critters you’d rather not have. Failure to tidy up after a big meal or small snack — or a project or relationship of any size — doesn’t always result in an ant show, but better to hedge your bets with a broom and avoid the toxicity later.
Oh, the lizards. So many lizards. Always on the run, climbing the walls, squeezing into tight places. They really aren’t that interested in coming inside, but if you’ve left your doors wide open and they dart in, it’s hard to get them to leave. I’ve tried to coax them out, spray them with cold water, but everyone I’ve talked to has said the same thing: “Oh, don’t mind the lizards.” Because not only are the lizards harmless, their pursuit is not to reek havoc in your house. They will eventually find an exit. I’ve taken the advice. I’ve kept my doors open and stopped worrying about the lizards. Makes me think about how we all have things about ourselves or our loved ones that drives us up the wall, but when they carry no ill will, the best strategy is to ignore them.
The one euro I spent on three flyswatters might be my best summer purchase. Flies are fast and have 360 degree vision but armed with a flyswatter, your odds are better than theirs. Wait and whack. Not that you couldn’t use a rolled up newspaper, but who has any of those lying around these days? They may not bite but they annoy with their high pitch flapping and invasion of personal space. We can live with flies just like we can live with the annoying things that buzz through our brains. Swatting at the air however hoping they go away isn’t going to get the job down. You need a lightweight, flexible and vented instrument - or a prayer or manta - to give you the added acceleration you need to hit the bugger. And then not to get discouraged when they come back to disturb the peace.
If it were easy to eradicate mosquitoes, it would have been done by now. Mosquitoes are a fact of life and the only mitigation is candles, long sleeves, and before and after sprays. They remind us that there are some things in life that we are indefensible against but it’s a small price to pay for the privilege of living in a world of beauty.
Happy summer and cheers to living with the doors open.