It’s been hanging over our heads for a year. Well, they have been hanging over our heads. The termites. In the attic. Munching away undisturbed for who knows how long. If you live in California, you probably have them, too, unsettling a thought as that may be.
You will rarely see one, as they lurk undetected for years in house walls, attics, subfloors, and roof shingles. An average colony might eat one pound of wood in a year. What you might see is their frass, or droppings. I thought that’s what I saw in a suitcase I left open overnight in our closet. Turned out I had just spilled something. But the ever vigilant CE had already called the pest control peeps, and when they came out to investigate, they did find the varmints grinning at them up in the attic.
And so began the circus parade. One of my favorite CE quotes was a recent comment he made when I pointed out the less-than-glamorous nature of our daily lives and he responded consolingly, “Not that many people travel with the circus,” an apt existential observation if I’ve ever heard one. But then the circus came to us, beginning with the dubious use of heat treatments for the termites in an effort to spare us the disruption of tenting our house.
They came back twice, insisting they could rid us of the vermin. Enormous hoses festooned our entryway balcony and snaked up into the attic, loudly blowing air heated to 170 degrees Fahrenheit for hours and hours. If I were a termite I would have rolled over and died from the noise alone, but our termites were of the persistent sort. They survived, although our attic furnace and thermostat did not. The correlation was never positively proved, but we had to replace two furnaces and repair a thermostat in the weeks after the heat treatment. Score so far: Termites 1, Us 0.
This meant war. After postponing the inevitable for months, we faced the fact that it was time to bring on the tent. It was not just that we would have to move out for a few days. It was that we, the dogs, the cats, the chickens and Birdie would have to move out. Where was Noah and his ark the day we needed him to take on a few extra animals?
The preparation took days. When you tent for termites, you must do the following: remove all food from the house, remove all houseplants, and pull exterior foliage away from the walls of the house. I took “food” to mean anything that could potentially be ingested, so I also packed up cosmetics and all medications, OTC and otherwise, so it’s safe to take a Sudafed if you come visit.
The clever CE had the idea of renting a truck and parking it over in our “woods” as a portable storage locker.
An additional worry was learning about the incidence of burglaries that apparently accompany fumigations. It’s hard to hide a tented house and thieves (inside jobs, perhaps?) calculate the window of time after the poisonous gas has dissipated but before the residents return. Lucky for us that our greatest valuables are the hens, and they were safely off-premises for the duration. Yes, even the chickens had to go because the coop is attached to an exterior wall of the house.
The hens and our two cats, Cody and Dodger, found refuge in adjacent cages at the aptly named Cat & Bird Clinic. It was a wild ride in the car to take them there, cats yowling and hens clucking in alarm.
Phyllis took Birdie on for a few days, and we decamped with the dogs to the pet-friendly Doubletree hotel. It turned out to be a lovely two-night “stay-cation” at the beach.
Two days later, the circus tent came down and we clowns moved back in. It has taken a few days to restore things to what passes for normal around here, but we are mostly re-settled and termite-free. Angelo, our fumigation expert, had assured us that the Vikane gas used for the process leaves absolutely no residue. The only thing we smelled when we moved back in turned out to be two dead rats in the attic that we had been trying to catch for weeks. Ultimate score: Termites, 0, Rats, 0, Us: victory over the vermin!
A friend shared that when her son was young, he used to see houses being tented and thought it meant the circus was there. In a way, he was right, although it’s not necessarily the one I wanted to see. Cue the calliope music: we’re happy to be back to our boring life. Let someone else travel with the circus!