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  • Melissa Westemeier


For years I've enjoyed the pleasures of a nature center up the road from my house. Purdy offers plenty of trails with hills, prairie and a pond. Every hike reveals surprises from trillium to mushrooms, turkeys to chipmunks. I know which corners boast the biggest songbird population. I can tell you where dead pines lean precariously overhead and where you'll likely spot deer. Generally I can count on one hand the number of other people I'll encounter on the trails, most days I have the place to myself. I don't mind crossing paths with others out there, though. People hiking in nature centers are rather like people in book stores. They're my type.

A few fellow hikers have become familiar faces--a broad-shouldered elderly man who moves with an aggressive stride, a woman who always has her earbuds in place but greets me with a wide smile, a former co-worker who favors the winter months for his visits. I always recognize newcomers to the trail--they're stopped at the posted signs trying to figure out where in the heck they are (Purdy's kind of a twisty place to hike) and they're usually dressed all wrong for their trip. What I mean by wrong is they carry backpacks with water bottles and snacks for what's only an hour's worth of hiking or they're bundled up against cold weather unaware that they'll be sweating before they finish the William Horvath Trail.

A few weeks ago I encountered a family dressed really wrong for the trail. They pissed me right off.

Let me set the scene: It's early fall. Asters and goldenrod are in full bloom, chipmunks scamper around the leaves and butterflies flutter at eye level while I pass the prairie. We haven't had cold enough weather to push the pollinators into hibernation yet, but the mosquitoes are rare because of Purdy's elevation. It dries out quickly after rain and the pond is aerated, so even in July a quick spray-down with bug repellent is sufficient. The grasses have turned golden and dragonflies swoop past me while I head out towards my car.

That's when I see them. The woman has her blonde hair teased and sprayed into place and she's wearing a tight black dress and high heels which make the trip across the crushed gravel tricky. The small children wear coordinating plaid outfits. The man's hair is slicked into place with gel and his shirt is tucked into his khakis. Obviously they're spit-polished and shining for a photo shoot. It's strange to me how people dress up to stand outside in nature for a picture. That's as weird as throwing on sweats and a grotty old T-shirt to pose inside the posh lobby of the Plaza Hotel. But whatever. People are weird. They do this with wedding parties, prom photos--I guess it's a thing to get spiffed up and pose by trees and creeks.

I scoot over to the side so they can walk past me (they're wearing dress shoes, after all, and I'm in sneakers). The bee hives are about twenty feet off to my right when I inhale a blast of a chemical floral aroma. Puzzled, I turn slightly and wonder if it was the woman's perfume, but my guess doesn't seem quite right. The smell's familiar, but I can't quite place it. Then I notice another woman behind them. She's setting up the camera on a tripod and there's a wagon further down the path. The wagon is filled with blankets and a can with a bright red nozzle. I walk through this cloud of scent and well past them when it hits me.

These assholes sprayed Raid to clear out the bugs for their photo shoot.

At a public nature center.

They've sprayed Raid when there hadn't been any measurable mosquito activity for weeks. They've sprayed Raid when there are still late-season pollinators doing their thing.

Every butterfly, dragonfly, honeybee and lacewing has been killed.

More than that, the residual action from Raid will continue to kill the bugs for a while.

These selfish, thoughtless people killed a bunch of beautiful insects just so they wouldn't be inconvenienced AT ALL while they sat on a log and said "Cheese."

I mean, I was mad that I inhaled the insecticide, but I was furious that it got sprayed right by the bee hives, right while the reason that makes Purdy a beautiful place to get pictures taken (DUH, POLLINATORS) were busy doing their thing. I wish I could tell you I turned back and raged at these morons, but I was so shocked at their behavior and scared I'd say something awful in front of small children, so instead I stormed straight to my car and drove home where I ranted to D about it for a good forty minutes. The NERVE of people, to spray a toxin across a nature preserve.

I think it's awful to spray any kind of insecticide or pesticide, the long-term damage of these chemicals on ecosystems is well-documented. These foggers also don't provide effective relief anyway. Raid acts like nerve gas, and disrupts insect nervous systems, and because it kills ALL the insects (no, it doesn't just pick and choose bad insects, it kills ALL insects), predator insect species get decimated which gives other insects, like mosquitoes, an advantage to overpopulate and become a bigger pestilence. I don't let D spray our yard, I let him use a bug zapper and we all spray ourselves to keep the pests at bay. Randomly spraying poison in the air? Not on my turf. Never on my watch.

I can't dictate what other people choose to do in their own yards, but it makes no sense to plant a flower garden and then spray a pesticide to kill all the insects. An elementary-level biology lesson should've taught folks that. And when bee species are incredibly threatened, and monarch butterflies are endangered, well, it seems like the people who like to get dressed up and go out in nature for photo shoots might rethink their choices.

Aldo Leopold writes that we are citizens of the biotic community, which means we have an obligation to give as much as we take in order to sustain the wilderness around us--and ourselves.

And really, the absolute NERVE to spray poison at a public nature center shows such an abandon of common sense and decency.

“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.” ― Rachel Carson

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