Friday, April 20, 2012

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Inky blackness, damp ground, shrouds of cobwebs, skeletal remains, droppings and dung, mold, dim light and flickering shadows, tight places, dirt and rocks, stale air, hard to breath...

I've just returned from my journey to the center of the earth, and that's what it looked like, smelled like and felt like.

Camponotus pennsylvanicus

About a month ago I began noticing the odd ant...they were big guys that crunched when you squished them.  One or two, no big deal.  And then there were 3,4, 7 and finally one day 12.  That was the day I called the exterminator.  He came the next morning and examined the specimens I had captured and put in a jar and confirmed they were carpenter ants...not a good thing.  They gnaw away at the wood in your house as they tunnel deeper and deeper inside.  They ruin your foundation, wood trim and more, as they invade your home.  Plus, it is incredibly gross to open a kitchen drawer and find ants crawling on your measuring cups!  So we picked a day for his team to come and "terminate" the ants.  And then he wrote up the estimate.


I gulped and signed and then called Jeff to rant about the ants.

And then I went online and did some research and asked friends what they thought.  There was a lot of good advice, but ultimately I knew what I had to do...lift the trapdoor to our crawlspace and go under the house.

The very thought of this was creeping me out.  But a friend assured me that newer houses had heavy-duty plastic over the earth and up the walls of the foundation and it wouldn't be that bad.  A little doubtfully, I googled "crawlspaces" just so I could really see what I was about to get myself into...literally!  Justin, who is studying architectural design, gave me a good idea of what I would encounter as far space and dimensions, and it wasn't the spacious 3-foot high and 10-foot wide area I pictured.  He told me there would be places I could barely pass through.  Then another friend told me that I could buy a total-body suit at Home Depot for under $20 bucks.  When I heard that, I knew I could do it.

So Jeff went to Home Depot and bought me my fancy white suit, a "stocking" to fit over my head, and a big bottle of pellets for the carpenter ants to take home to their nest and cause mass genocide.  I also made him get the trouble lamp and extension cords to help ready me for my ordeal.

As soon as I finished work that night, I went downstairs to prepare.  First I had to empty my Christmas decor from the closet under the stairs, which is where the trapdoor to the crawlspace is.  Funny thing, but I have lived in this house for almost 5 years and never so much as wondered what was beneath that carpeted trapdoor until this Christmas when Justin was helping me move the holiday boxes back into storage.  He asked me if I wanted to see inside, and I said sure.  He lifted the door and we peered into the dark depths and spied a lot of cobwebs and droppings.  We both shuddered and said, "Gross!" and then he put the door back in place and I finished moving my boxes into the closet, never dreaming that in just a few short months I would be re-opening that trapdoor and lowering my body into the belly of our house!

I imagined it would be chilly under the house at night, so I wore my fleece jacket and slippers underneath my bodysuit.  I pulled the stocking over my head and it instantly made the back of my neck itch like crazy where it pressed my hair down.  So I scooped my hair up and shoved it underneath the cap so it wouldn't touch my skin.  Then I pulled the front of the stocking over my mouth and nose.  I slipped into the huge white bodysuit and tied the legs over my feet.  Last, I slipped on rubber gloves. 

I grabbed my camera and a flashlight and lowered myself down. Jeff handed me down the trouble lamp, and I shined it straight ahead and found that my way was blocked by huge black tubes of something. I would have to squeeze myself through a space that was about a foot wide. I knelt down and began to crawl. Cobwebs hung low in front of my face. I called up to Jeff to bring me a hockey stick so I could scrape them down and out of my way. Then my trouble lamp went out. If it wasn't for the fact that I was only a couple feet away from the trapdoor, I would have been plunged into total darkness. Jeff quickly pushed the ends of the two extension cords tighter together and the light came back on. I took a deep breath, aimed my lamp at the narrow place, took a couple knee-hand-knee-hand steps forward and...Suddenly, I didn't want to do this at all!

This is the tiny space I had to squeeze through...
Wow!  Now that I see the picture, it wasn't even a foot wide!

"$750"  I reminded myself.  "We're saving $750."  I shoved the trouble lamp ahead of me through the narrow space and then wedged my body against the wall and the tubing and pushed myself ahead into . . . I wasn't sure.  But the tubing gave way to the right and I came into an open space where I could actually look around.  There was a wall to the right that totally blocked me from half the house.  "Great," I thought.  I knew then I'd have to do half the house, crawl all the way back to where I started, go around the bearing wall and then go to the other half of the house to treat that side and then crawl back again.

The earth was covered with gravel and the gravel was covered with a heavy black plastic tarp.  Every piece of sharp gravel poked my knees as I crawled.  Sometimes pipes blocked my way and I had to climb over them.  Other times tubing blocked my way and I had to lie on my stomach and slide beneath it.  Everywhere were mouse droppings, sawdust, dirt and webs.  In some places the tarp had torn and water was puddled in the folds of plastic, smelling mildewy and foul.  I carried the big bottle of ant poison, the trouble lamp, a smaller flashlight in case the trouble lamp went out again and left me in blackness, the hockey stick and my camera.  Okay, too much stuff.  I could hardly move.  I abandoned the hockey stick and the camera (which is why there are no more pictures beyond the photo of the tight space above) and managed by pushing the trouble lamp ahead of me and then crawling on my knees and elbows while holding the bottle and the flashlight in my hands.  I grunted and groaned the whole way...I couldn't help it!  "OOF!" as I went down on my stomach and slid under a pipe.  "UMPH!" as I hauled my body over a pipe.  "EWW!" as I wiped away sticky cobwebs that clung to my head.  And "OUCH!" as my hands and knees again and again grinded into the sharp gravel.  I was also super hot in my sauna-suit!  I pictured myself as Andy on Shawshank Redemption, crawling the length of two football fields on my hands and knees through the sewer to freedom.  Okay, so it wasn't nearly that bad!

And then I was done.  I tossed the last of the pellets against the foundation and around the last vent and then, gratefully and anxiously, I crawled back to the trapdoor and called Jeff.  I stood up and peeled off my suit inside out so I wouldn't get any yucky stuff on the carpet, and then Jeff gave me a hand up and out of the hole.  I was drenched in sweat...wetter than I ever get doing Zumba or going for a run!  I crammed my suit into the garbage and headed for the shower.  That may have been my favorite shower ever!

Crawling out of the depths of darkness and dirt, completely
drenched and dripping with sweat!

So now I'm clean, warm and dry and back in the land of the living.  The Home Depot bill totalled $18.92:  $6.88 for the ant spectracide, $2.29 for the stocking, $8.67 for the bodysuit, and $1.08 for the Hershey Almond Bar...Wait!  I never saw a Hershey bar in the Home Depot bag!!  Jeff, you're busted!  Anyway, my expeditition saved us $731.08!  I think Jeff owes me big time!

By the way...

I never saw one single ant.


  1. You are amazing Karyn! There is no way I could have brought myself to do that!

    1. Wish you could have come with me Brandy, just to take some awesome, gruesome pictures! : )

  2. Oh Karyn ... the saving grace is your size but still?! I thought my five minutes (or was it 2?!) in the MRI machine was bad!
    I am praying that those aunts will not show up in your house again! As far as Jeff goes ... what could he buy you for $700? (Notice I deducted the suit $, the trouble light and the pellets for the aunts!)

    1. Ha ha, are sharp! Funny thing, I just updated this blog entry because I found the Home Depot receipt for the supplies and it totalled just $18.92...including a Hershey Almond bar that Jeff treated himself too!

  3. Karyn, you are so very funny and brave! I love your sense of humor and your writing skills. Very descriptive, have you ever thought of writing a book? Lets hope the ants are gone for good.

  4. Oh! my! Gosh!...this was a great story! Karyn, I would have lived with those ants, then go underground. I felt claustrophobic and a bit of anxiety just reading your story.
    I LOVED your pictures. You are something else.
    Love you!