Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Off the Grid: The autumnal invasion

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

This time of year, my favorite household appliance is the shop vacuum. I like my shop vac to have the suction power of a black hole so I can aim it at offending critters, secure my ear protection, and watch whatever it is approaching the afterlife in breach, helpless and confused, before it makes a satisfying THWOOT sound into the eternal holding space that is my vacuum.

It starts on a single day in September. Occasionally, someone shows up early for the party, like an obnoxious dinner guest who thinks you’re done showering 15 minutes before six.

“Charlie! There is a stink bug in the window!”

Our marriage therapist notes that these statements are known as “bids for trust” to determine whether or not my husband will be there for me when I need him. This bonding activity alone probably ensures the longevity of our relationship. In fact, his wedding vows included a lifelong commitment to exterminate flies on my behalf.

“It’s not September yet,” he mutters and rolls over. I keep this in a Diary of Betrayals where I also tally every time he finished the ice cream or poured more coffee in his cup than in mine.

The western conifer seed bug, known as blasted stink bug in many circles, begins its search for over-wintering space when the temperatures drop. As far as I can tell, it prefers open spaces with good lighting and wood heat, and rustic interior decoration.

The first stink bug is just a preseason scout, a rookie real estate agent for future migrators. I greet it with a nod and a fierce stare. Then, in preparation for the invasion, I charge all the extra batteries for the shop-vac-that-could-tractor- beam-an-asteroid-to-Earth. Incidentally, this is an effective extermination means for most animals. It didn’t work for the cockroaches a few million years ago, so I’m not chancing it.

At first, I can only smell them. It happens at 2 a.m. when I roll over in the comfort of my duvet, which I just started enjoying because The Summer of Swelter is dwindling, and that pungent aroma of – I’m assuming pine-sap flatulence – wafts up from under the sheets.

If you are like me, your eyes pop open to a dark room, you jolt straight out of bed and flood the room with the luminescence of eight billion candles, disturbing migrating birds with the beams from your windows, and shout directly at your husband’s confused head, “They’re HERE!”

Then I begin to yank linens off the bed, flinging pillows, blankets, and slumbering husbands and cats in all directions until I locate the lazily crawling brown bug, at which point I scream hysterically while doing a heebie-jeebie dance because I have just realized I shared my bed with a stink bug and nothing is sacred.

Then I make a note in my diary. “September 7th: Charlie slept through bug ambush.”

Stink bugs appear to be highly medicated on quaaludes because no manner of flailing about or cursing seems to concern them. I don’t know what my husband’s excuse is.

From then on, I leave the vacuum on the front porch as a warning.

For the next several weeks I perform an evening ritual. I stomp onto the porch, secure the furniture and fire up the shop vac. The smart ones take flight in their awkward bumble toward fresh air, but there is no mercy shown to cavalier creepers setting up camp on my window sills.

Sometimes, like a body counter in a dystopian novel about the future, I announce the numbers at the dinner table.

“Forty-seven stink bugs today, 12 in our bedroom,” I say matter-of-factly to the family. It’s important they understand my contribution to stability and security in our home. “Might even get to sleep through the night tonight.”

“Did you wake up last night?” Charlie asks as he takes a bite. “I thought I heard something.”

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at