This is a column I wrote earlier this year for the Times-Georgian.
Aiobhin (oh-veen) spent four days in the south. We drove around Carrollton, went to Jekyll Island, drove across the Florida state line, and went to my grandparent’s farm in Alabama. I did my very best to give her a complete southern visit to Georgia. Of all the things she saw, she noted most on the bugs. Aoibhin is Irish. Ireland has bugs, but nothing to the magnitude that we have in the south.
As Aoibhin, my dad, and I walked around our backyard picking muscadines and pointing out okra, my dad and I told tall tales of flying critters that sting with the force of a small jack hammer. Aoibhin was astonished to hear of horseflies and black wasps and fire ants. These were all critters that she had never heard of before! To say the least, she was slightly terrified of bugs for the rest of the trip.
She and I were driving through Carrollton when a giant black thing zoomed past her window. Aoibhin shrieked and asked me what it was. I said plainly that it was a dragonfly. “THAT was a dragonfly? Are you serious!? That thing was monstrous!” she adamantly told me. I chuckled and said, “Yeah, that was a normal sized one too.”
When we arrived on Jekyll Island, the bug adventures escalated.
I pointed out the massive oak trees covering the island. She gasped at their rugged beauty, and she asked the right question, “What’s that stuff hanging off the trees?”
“That’s called Spanish Moss. It’s pretty to look at, but don’t touch it,” I replied. “Oh. Why not?” she asked. My response may have been slightly exaggerated because I wanted to get the point across and because I wanted to watch her freak out.
“Inside of that Spanish Moss is a tiny red bug that bores into your skin and lives there. It’s like a little red vampire. The only way to kill it is to put nail polish over the area and let it die,” I explained with as straight a face as I could muster.
Shocked, she replied, “Does it ever come out?”
To her horror and my delight, I said, “No.”
To say the least, she didn’t go within twenty-feet of any of the oak trees. I laughed every time she ducked under a branch while we cycled the island.
We were walking around the remains of an old plantation home when I smacked my thigh and said, “Got him!” I showed her the squished mosquito in my hand and she backed away in disgust.
“How do you keep it from biting you?” she asked.
“You kill it! It doesn’t matter if it’s already bitten you or just landed, but when you see one, you smash it. If I randomly smack you, it’s probably because I was killing a mosquito that landed on you. It’s an act of practical kindness and love here. No one wants to have mosquito bites all over them,” I explained. Her expression was a mixed one. She didn’t know how to take me saying that I might hit her every now and then to kill a bug.
“What is that noise?” she asked as we walked onto Driftwood Beach. I explained to her that what she was hearing were cicadas. She responded with, “THOSE ARE BUGS? I have never heard something so loud!” Again, the world of bugs in the south baffled her.
It’s little things like bugs that we don’t consider when we travel. Looking back on my time in Ireland, I don’t remember seeing a lot of bugs. I have a horror spider story and gnats are there, but nothing to the magnitude of what we have here. It’s the little things of what a place has to offer that can truly make your experience. Although Aoibhin didn’t like dealing with our critters, she did say they made all the difference in the trip. She experienced the real south.