I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and that extends to my dreams, unfortunately. Last Saturday morning I woke up from a run-of-the-mill disturbing dream. I won’t bore you with the details, but the closing scene was me wearing my wedding dress, trying to figure out how to use a revolting public toilet without letting the hem touch the ground, when the door swung open to reveal a drunk Vladimir Putin standing next in line for the cubicle. Honestly, it was a poor way to start a day, by anyone’s standards.
Having set the tone for the weekend, we drove out to the farm that morning for the first time in about three weeks. It poured with rain on and off for the whole drive, and while the place looked gorgeous and green when we arrived, there was a dark grey cloud hanging overhead. Walking up the steps of the cabin for the first time in a while, it was pretty obvious that something wasn’t quite right. I spotted a caterpillar on our rosemary plant, which seemed a bit odd, then another two on the thyme, and then several more on the deck. And then we moved inside. That lovely interior I’d so proudly photographed last time was covered, floor to ceiling, in little black caterpillars. Quite literally, the place was pulsating with life.
At some stage in my life I’m embarrassed to say that I developed an irrational fear of caterpillars, so this was a hugely distressing scene. We spent hours pulling caterpillars off our bed, the dishes, windows, floors, tables, tap handles and basically every other surface. The worst thing though was that they kept descending from the roof as quickly as we could clear them. They hung on fine, clear threads in midair, like the Christmas baubles of hell.
I’m sure the only way we got through it was from watching far too much of ‘The Walking Dead’. We knew the odds were stacked against us, but we got out there and gave those caterpillars a good, old-fashioned Ricking.
As nature would have it, all these caterpillars brought in predators, and we had some seriously huge spiders to contend with on top of everything else. Matt coaxed a loan wolf spider the size of his hand off the ceiling with the broom and a ‘come on darling’, while massive spiders and their offspring caught caterpillars in their webs around the place.
The day didn’t start to improve until around sunset, at which point we called it quits on farm work and drove up to the highest point of the property to enjoy a cold drink and watch a beautiful sunset unfold, wilt and turn to night. Nighttime brought its own issues however. Matt jumped up periodically with the torch to check how many caterpillars had fallen into the bed (he had one crawling over his ear at one point). Nobody slept well.
By the end of Sunday, the skies had cleared again and after our second day of battle we could swiftly identify caterpillars as hangers, crawlers, swingers (like a hanger, but outside) and marchers (a crawler with pace). For example ‘swinger, left shoulder’, or, ‘you’ve got a marcher right above your head’ (not a good one to hear when you’re lying in bed).
Words and images by Alice Thompson