Monday, June 1, 2015

When Slugs Fly

There is a banana slug on the screen to my sliding glass door. The cat raised one paw to it but decided not to touch it at the last second. I'm never sure what slugs do there on the screen because I can't imagine it's comfortable, but they are curious folk. I imagine them helping me clean algae from it, telling me that their slime trails turn to fairy glass and will dissolve into dust when it dries. It's true. Have you ever seen a slug trail in the sunshine? It's a rainbow and then you touch it and it's gone, shattered.

Most people, especially gardeners in the Pacific Northwest, are involved in genocide, the attempt at sending the banana slug to extinction, but I don't think these people have really looked at a banana slug or thought about their role in the environment. Banana slugs are quiet. I know they're hungry, true, but they're just trying to tell you to plant natives in your yard anyway. Still, last fall I bought a bunch of native plants, wild ginger, bunch berry, and deer fern and I planted them in my front yard under my Japanese maple. The deer fern are the only ones that weren't decimated by some voracious creature when things began to grow in March. I blame those little black bugs with yellow dots above each of their many legs, not the banana slugs.

I love the Internet. The black bugs with yellow dots are flat-backed millipedes. They have no eyes and secrete toxic chemicals but it's not enough to hurt a human. I wouldn't eat one, just in case. They aren't native to the Pacific Northwest either, but they're everywhere. I couldn't find anything about what evil millipedes eat, probably wild ginger and bunch berry.

So, I'm holding off on blaming my banana slugs for the death of my wild ginger. Banana slugs are surprising to look at, not human at all, which is what we humans usually like in a face. Who doesn't think a baby chimpanzee is adorable? Still, banana slugs have a certain alien charm. They are a dull yellow with black freckles and can be as long as seven inches. When I first moved here from the East Coast, I found this shocking. They seem to wear a hood or a thick collar behind their heads and have a frilly hem along their sides. But they have weak eyes at the end of stalks that work more like delicate fingers than anything. When a human finger is put in front of their faces, they back away as if stung. Maybe we do sting when we touch them. Salt peels their skin away completely. I tried it once and was horrified to have caused so much agony for the poor writhing slug. So maybe our salty skin is like nettle to them.

By the way, I found out the other day that nettle can sting right through latex gloves. Can you imagine that? I thought they would help me conquer my fields of nettle because someone - I won't name names- took my trusty old gardening gloves to a Scouting event and they never made it back to where I look for them in the garage.

Sorry, back to the banana slugs.

We are fearful beasts for a slug with our salty skin and great clumsy feet and the sweet poisons we leave for them. And what do they do for us in return? Did you know that slug slime has a natural anesthetic and will neutralize a nettle sting? Well, that's what a park ranger once told me anyway, but I've never been brave enough to try it out. I needed that the other day in my fields of nettles, the day my gardening gloves went missing.

Except for eating those exotic flowers you buy at Home Depot on sale, slugs are benign creatures, really. They move so slowly, so cautiously that I wonder what their languid lives are like. Sometimes I find a pair curled into a yin yang symbol, slug comfort, I imagine, but I could be witnessing a slow-motion battle. Their lives are so alien to me, I can't even interpret their simplest movements, except their slow but determined movement toward my potted plants.

So I have made peace with my banana slugs. It makes sense because three sides of my yard are adjacent to forest. There is futility in killing all those slugs and I don't like putting poison on my yard anyway. Now and then though, when I find a slug eating petunias in the pots on my deck, I do show it how it could fly if it tried hard enough. I wrap it carefully in a big leaf so as not to come in contact with its anesthetic fairy glass slime which is impervious to soap and water and my impatience to let it air dry. Then, I pluck it off its salad and I toss it as far as it might take him to crawl in two or three days.

And in two or three days, my determined banana slug may fly again.

Thank you for listening, jb

No comments:

Post a Comment