Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Battle for the Shed

I'm not above resorting to chemical warfare to protect my property and ensure my personal security.  Especially when my enemy has way more legs than I do.

Basic food cooked simply.
Pancakes for breakfast.
The Shed is a place I go to get out of the press of a busy city.  You may not think of Perth as any more hectic than your typical coma, but I still like to get away from the traffic, noise and crowds, such as they are.  Plus, the house I live in is too small to have any kind of workshop or space for my hobbies.  It is also so close to the neighbors that I can hear their phone conversations and smell their cigarette smoke.  Probably the most revolting stench in the world.

Every week or so, particularly when the neighbors have a loud party, I get out of town and head up to the Shed to re-charge, re-focus, de-stress, look for hope and meaning, and generally take stock of things.  The Shed provides me with the solitude, silence and fresh air that I need for that.  It also gives me the chance to do things that I really enjoy, to work on projects, write, pursue hobbies, read, or just lie in my hammock in harmony with nature, peacefully thinking of ways to finally get the bastards.

Chili with cornbread and a cold
Ginger Beer.

At the Shed I eat basic food cooked simply.  Baked potato roasted in the coals of a fire, a porterhouse grilled in a cast iron skillet with an onion which I slice up using a Swiss Army knife (a surprisingly useful item). Once, however, I prepared an entire Thanksgiving feast in the Shed for my son and myself, which he didn't touch.  Apparently he "doesn't like" turkey.  On winter evenings I light a fire in the stove; at sundown in the summer I get out the telescope (a 7" Maksutov on an equatorial mount) for some astonishing southern hemisphere stargazing.

There's always work to be done too: things to build, firewood to cut, trees to plant and irrigate, rain gutters to keep clear, tools to sharpen or repair, and improvements to make.  On one occasion, however, the Shed offered me something I wasn't expecting.

Protracted Warfare with an Entrenched Enemy.

The Australian Redback
(shown not fully mature)
It was one of those Friday afternoons.  I arrived at the Shed full of care and eager to begin ignoring my burdens for a day or two.  I unlocked the gate, drove the Toyota light truck around to the back and parked it.  I grabbed my overnight bag and the weekend's groceries out of the truck, unlocked the door to the shed, and stepping inside, put my face straight into a spider's web.

Not just any old spider, either: a RedbackLatrodectus hasselti, highly venomous cousin of the American Black Widow, Latrodectus hesperus.  I have heard that some scientists were claiming these to be genetically subspecies of the same species, but I can't find a reference to that factoid today.  The markings are different, and the Redback's black body is more of a velvet matt compared to the Black Widow's high gloss black.  But if you happen look underneath a Redback (as one does), you can see the same red hourglass that is the Black Widow's trademark.  I also am convinced that the Black Widow's silk is at least twice as strong as a Redback's.  Much of my suburban Arizona youth was spent battling the dreaded Black Widow, whose silk is pound for pound stronger than steel and makes a distinctive crackle when a stick is dragged, with some considerable effort, through a web.

Redbacks also have
the hourglass marking.
After doing the creepy-spider-creep-out dance for the requisite five minutes outside the Shed, I promptly acquired a sturdy stick (which, according to Douglas Adams is the second most useful thing ever).  I re-entered the shed by knocking down the web covering the doorway with my stick.  Then another web after that, and another.  I looked around me and discovered I was in way over my head.  There were Redback webs covering every surface of every item in the shed and spanning every space available. Every web had at least a tiny pale hatchling Redback spider on it, though quite enough of them were considerably larger and more mature.  I had walked into the middle of an infestation.  Not just an invasion, a total Redback occupation of the Shed.

My main weapon against Redbacks is a spray bottle of the kind that you put a mixture in and pump up.  I also keep a small bottle of concentrated pyrethrin-based insecticide in the Shed.  On this occasion it would do me no good, however.  I looked wistfully at my spray bottle and at the very large Redback that had made her web right on top of it.  I waved my stick thorough its web, hoping to retrieve my one effective weapon, but that caused the Redback to retreat INSIDE the handle of the sprayer, rendering the sprayer completely inaccessible to me.

Fighting my way back out of the shed, I regrouped at the truck.  I had been beaten.  Defeated, for the moment.  I needed reinforcements.  I needed The Warrior to take charge.  But he'd better hurry: in a few minutes the only shop in the tiny village of Bindoon would close for the night.

In a moment, I was back in the battered old Toyota, my foot planted hard on the accelerator, barreling down the road racing around corners like my hair was on fire.  That is to say, driving just as I normally do whenever I get behind the wheel. I made it to the shop moments before it closed.  I purchased the town's last two cans of insect spray, and pointed the truck once again towards the Shed and its hundreds of eight-legged interlopers.

My plan was simple.  Taking a page from Lord Nelson of the Royal Navy, who said, "Never mind maneuvers, always go straight at 'em," I took a stick in one hand, a can of spray in the other and tucked the second can into my belt.  Entering the Shed, I sprayed everything within reach, then knocked away webs to push further inside the shed.  The spray's neurotoxins work quickly, but a writhing Redback is still capable of planting a deadly bite before it permanently points its legs to the sky.  I had to watch that my victims were not climbing up my boots or dropping onto me from overhead webs.

Finally, in the fading light of the afternoon and with both cans of spray totally exhausted, I made it back out of the Shed with my newly liberated pump-sprayer and the bottle of pyrethrin mix.  Using a small stick I dislodged the still-twitching corpse of a Redback from the sprayer handle, filled the 1-litre tank with an extra-strength mix of insecticide, and went back around the entire shed, drenching every object and surface in bug killer, including the walls, ceiling and floor.  This mix dries on the surface and kills anything that walks on it for up to 3 months. It gets scorpions, centipedes, spiders, ants, flies, tics, roaches, anything with more legs than are strictly necessary, in my opinion, for locomotory propulsion.

I resolved that day to maintain the Shed's defenses more diligently in the future.  A Redback can have a thousand offspring at one go, and to avoid a repetition of this near-disaster I would not leave the Shed vulnerable to an infestation again.  Every visit to the Shed begins with a thorough scan for those telltale lopsided-pyramidal webs that always mean Redback, and every three months the entire shed gets baptized anew in pyrethrin.

Of course total security is never more than an illusion.  I don't want to kill every scorpion, Redback, or centipede on my entire block of land; only the ones that get ideas about turning my Shed into some kind of . . . spidery . . . place where spiders are.

I think I need a break.  Time to head for the Shed, put my feet up for a while.


  1. If the pesticides don't work, there's always Plan B. http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2011/08/29/1620433/what-not-to-do-lynden-man-lights.html

  2. Rick, see: http://aussieshed.blogspot.com/2011/08/surprisingly-useful-things-shed-could.html
    especially the section on Kerosene. Gasoline (Petrol) is a sketchy thing to be lighting up.