Peterson: Gnat-urally, little insects prove to be a pain

I’m not sure when the first gnat showed up, but it probably was in December, which wasn’t a particularly cold month. Maybe for a gnat it was.

What I remember of December was it was rather balmy, not one of those deep-cold winter months when the temperature dips below zero for a high and snow is measured in feet. I don’t think I wore a winter coat in December.

Like I am wearing one now – near the end of February – and it’s a new one because I had recurring issues with the zipper, and snaps were tearing off. It was a good coat that treated me well for many winters, and one too many replacement zippers. The coat wasn’t designed for zippers, and it wasn’t worth rezippering one more time, only to have it snag again.

The new coat, which is quite warm, thank you, is made with a zipper that assuredly will not snag. The zipper is large and metal, and there is no fabric anywhere near it to snag on. I’ll have this coat for a good 10 years.

And it was getting too cold later in January for the stylish, open-front, weather’s-not-a-worry look.

Gnats don’t wear coats.

We’ve never had gnats before, inside anyway. You expect them outside, feeding on the foliage, getting in your face.

It’s not as if gnats are a problem insect. They are small, the size of a slightly dulled pencil head. They don’t make a buzzing sound like flies hanging around your ears. They don’t bite like mosquitoes. They don’t swarm like their warm-weather cousins. They don’t drill holes in you like ticks. They are nothing like lice, an insect that makes my skin crawl at its very mention.

What’s there not to like?

Well, it’s just the fact that they seem to like to fly in front of your face. They aren’t landing or buzzing, just hovering, making a nuisance of themselves. And you would have to wave your hand in the air to get them away from you. Trying to kill them wasn’t as easy as it looked. They didn’t fly very fast, just fast enough to avoid the clap of hands, and certain death.

But every once in a while, they would land on your food or plate, obviously tired from constantly flying. And that was enough to cross the line. They were infringing on our cleanliness, as if eating a gnat would cause any digestive problems. We eat more dirt in a day than a gnat or two.

I was flummoxed by the whole episode, thinking it was One of Those Things: This, too, shall pass.

But it didn’t.

Good wife Patricia wasn’t about to be flummoxed. She was on a mission to stop these gnats.

And she wasn’t about to call an exterminator, not after the episode last summer with the wasps’ nest tucked safely under the decorative shutter on the kitchen window that overlooked the patio. There was no getting at these wasps; they had made the perfect nest, completely protected from Wasp Killer Spray.

So we called an exterminator. Some years ago, we had watched the entire “Billy the Exterminator” series, and one of his common calls was to eliminate wasp nests. Billy lives in Louisiana, and wasps there are monsters. Billy always was up for the challenge; Billy always won.

But our exterminator was not quite as good; he didn’t have his own reality series. He would spray them, but could not kill them. The obvious tactic was to remove the shutter – something Billy would do – to get at the nest directly, kill the wasps, then put the shutter back in place.

Billy was TV, and he was fearless. We aren’t TV, and our exterminator wasn’t, nor were we, fearless. But after several combined efforts, we were able to kill the wasps in their hideout. Better yet, I was able to complete painting the house.

Patricia decided through the process of elimination that the gnats were coming from the potted plants we had acquired over the holidays. The working theory was the potting soil they were planted in was their breeding ground. They were either overwatered or underwatered, and who’s to say which? The plants came without owners’ manuals.

She proceeded to methodically repot each of the plants with fresh soil, and lay to rest the obvious dead plants in our backyard garden.

And it’s been a week or so, and not a gnat is to be seen. Oh, say can you see, not a gnat is nearby.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He may be reached at

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