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So it’s come down to this: Now I’m knocking on strangers’ doors asking for pest advice. You would think I’m still a rookie.

I was driving down a mountain road when a plastic container sticking out of a trash can caught my eye. The label sported a large furry animal with a mug that belongs on a most wanted poster. I stopped and read the sales pitch on the bottle; it was one of those all-natural repellents “guaranteed” to work. It was called Gopher Scram.

I put the empty container back in the trash and knocked on the front door. A woman wearing gardening gloves came to the door. “Sorry to bother you ma’am, but did that repellent make your gophers scram?” She told me, with a deadpan expression—people fighting gophers rarely joke around—that she had been happy with the results. We chatted a bit, then I thanked her and left.

As a pest professional, I’m always looking for effective tools against critters. I will gladly include anything promising in my arsenal, even so-called alternative treatments, if they prove they can do the job. If you find a good one, please call and let me know. My ears are standing by.

At Home Defenders, we use a variety of proven, environmentally safe products to rid your home of pests. One is Tim-bor, a highly effective natural product that we apply to bare wood. When termites eat the treated wood, they get a one-way ticket to termite heaven. (I’m sure it’s a wonderful place, filled with waiters serving gourmet wood on silver platters.)  

Back on earth, I will keep trying natural repellents, but with a skeptical eye, because those products are 100% effective at one thing: making easy money for the people who sell them.

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A Rain of Puccini Pain

I don’t normally resort to scare tactics—and forgive me, ladies, for the crudeness of the following image—but if you don’t read the rest of this article you could end up running down the street in your birthday suit with an angry swarm of wasps in hot pursuit. You have been warned. 

Last week, I wrote about leaf-munching bugs, but this week I’m raising the stakes with a stern warning about one of our most dreaded summer pests: yellow jacket wasps. Most mountain residents are familiar with yellow jackets, aka meat bees; they’re the thieves that steal a morsel of your tasty barbecue… or sip your soda… or nibble your outrageously decadent cheesecake. How dare they!

Most people don’t have memorable yellow jacket stories, but I’ll never forget the customer who told me he was happily lathering in the shower, singing an aria from La Bohème, then seconds later was running down the street with a swarm of angry yellow jackets hot on his tail. What happened? Yellow jackets were building a nest in the ceiling above the shower and had chewed away the drywall, leaving only a thin layer of paint. The man had noticed a discoloration on the ceiling and innocently poked his finger through it— right into the live wasp nest! In sheer terror, he grabbed a towel and ran out of the house as enraged wasps chased him down the street. Luckily, he made it to a neighbor’s home where he called us, shouting, “Home Defenders, I need help!” He escaped the ordeal with only a few stings. 

Yes folks, it’s summer and all mountain pests are busy scratching and clawing in their endless fight for survival. They don’t want to hurt you, but if you accidentally threaten them, they’ll be all over you like honeybees on orange blossoms.

Be sure and keep our phone number, and a towel, handy. (And for heaven’s sake don’t sing La Bohème in the shower, yellow jackets love Puccini!)

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Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of an experienced pest professional when he’s challenged with solving a pest problem he’s never seen before? This week I’ll show you.

I recently got a call from a man who said, “Mike, I’ve got a Golden Chain tree and the leaves are being chewed up by something. Help!” Though I’m not familiar with those particular trees, over the years I’ve seen thousands of novel pest problems, so I’m no rookie at being a rookie. I agreed to take a look.

I know from experience that smart pest management starts with an inspection, so I drove to the home and inspected the tree. I got lucky and immediately found caterpillars eating the leaves. I didn’t know the exact species, but again, I knew from experience that I likely didn’t need to know—caterpillar control on leaves rarely varies from species to species.

You might think my main concern at this point was eliminating the caterpillars, but it wasn’t, because I have learned from unforgiving experience that an improper pesticide treatment can kill leaves. My main priority was not hurting the tree. 

I needed a product to safely treat the leaves, so once again, I drew from experience. I grabbed the container of the product I use to treat oak leaves for leaf rollers—which are caterpillars—and carefully read the label. It indicated that I could safely treat “ornamental trees” for “leaf feeding caterpillars.” Bingo! I mixed the product according to the label instructions, treated the leaves, and said goodbye to my new customer confident I’d solved his problem. A week later I inspected the tree and voila, no more caterpillars. That’s a satisfying moment in the life of a Home Defender.

So what goes through the mind of an experienced professional facing a new pest problem? He thanks his lucky stars he’s not a rookie anymore!

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“Wow, look at that,” I’m thinking. “I can’t wait to write about this.”

I’m hiking on a forest trail and I’m seeing a commonplace sight: bear, coyote, and raccoon prints. So why is that worth writing about? Because I made this short trail a month ago and these paw prints mean that wild animals—trail-hiking royalty—have given my dirt path their blessing. Thank you kindly, your furry majesties.

Speaking of animals, I’ll never forget a raccoon job I tackled a few years back, where a mother raccoon was raising her young under a vacation home bathtub. She had removed some exterior wood shingle siding to get into that protected space. Happily, the homeowner agreed to wait until the young were grown before I chased the family out. All ended well for all involved.

I was amazed at the mother raccoon’s skill. If she had removed shingles just a few inches to the left or right she would have hit a wall stud to frustration. But she hit a hidden bullseye on her first try. How? Maybe she smelled the moisture in the void, or maybe she used her sensitive whiskers to feel a draft flowing out the wood shingles. Who knows. But it’s yet another reason to admire our forest animals.

If you suspect wild animals are living in your home, call us today for a free evaluation and we’ll get them out in a humane way—that’s the only way we Home Defenders get the job done.

Finally, I don’t just make hiking paths, I also made this article, this “word path” and I would like to thank you, royal reader, for following it to the end—for giving it your kindly blessing. 

Now if you could just yank some shingles and have your young under a bathtub I’d really be impressed!

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 It’s time for my annual article on “signs I might be getting old.” Here’s my new list:

>> I’ve seen many generations of dogs go from pup to adult to old dog to gone-to-doggy-heaven.

>>When I’m in a good mood, I’m amazed at how many brown hairs I still see on my head. When I’m in a bad mood, all I see are gray ones.

>> I’ve been getting those “you’re over the hill” birthday cards for decades now.

>> The last time I could wolf down a big meal and exercise, well, John Travolta was striking a pose under a disco ball.

>> Eulogies for my high school classmates have gone from “He passed away too young” to “He lived a full life”.

>>I sometimes use 60’s slang around teens just to mess with their heads. “Hey man, that sure is one far out pair of bell bottoms!”

>>I’m convinced that an Apple Watch will one day save my life.

>>When I go down the hill, I always take a jacket because sometimes it gets nippy. Also, I use the word “nippy.”

>>I look like a corpse under those godawful overhead fluorescent lights. 

>> When I started Home Defenders in 1996, I paid absolutely no attention to those godawful overhead fluorescent lights.

>> I went jogging last week, and, though I didn’t find any bullet holes, I’m sure a sniper shot me in the back of the leg. 

>>I’ve got those heat/cold wraps for almost every region of the human body.

>>I think gray hair looks cool and sexy on every head but my own.

Finally, I know I might be getting old because I’m retiring my “might be getting old” theme for a new one: “I woke up this morning and finally had to admit I am old.”

I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of it. Especially if you’re still young.

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Today, I’m going to write about something that adds a great spice to life. It lives in every article I’ve ever written, but I’ve never dared write about it, lest the writing gods strike me dead.

What on earth am I talking about? I’m talking about that sense of mystery—the feeling that you don’t know what’s coming next. Will this article be about pests, or…dogs in India or whatever I write about when I’m on a tangent? Has the mystery of it caught you, like a curious mouse, in the jaws of its snap trap?  

Speaking of mysteries, twenty years ago I got a call for a routine bat estimate. Arriving at the home, I heard a chorus of squeaking sounds coming from a wall—a sure sign that dozens of bats were living inside the wall void. To get them out, I needed to find the opening on the outside of the house that the bats use to come and go. Not finding it, I came back at sundown when bats fly outside to feed—but saw no bat fly outside. I returned the next few evenings, but I never saw a bat. 

Then, on the third evening, a funny thing happened. When the homeowners answered the door, they said, “Mike, we don’t hear a peep anymore.” I grabbed my handy stethoscope, put it to the wall, and listened intently. The silent verdict: the bats were gone. And they never came back. Weird.

Hey, homeowner, do you have bats, rats, mice or other problem critters? In over thirty years of pest management, I’ve only seen one pest problem solve itself. Just like casinos in Vegas, Mother Nature has stacked the deck in her favor. Call Home Defenders today!

Now, how will I end this article? Will I come up with a witty punchline? An insightful thought? Who knows, just sit back and enjoy the playful mystery of it all.

The afterglow is really good too, huh?

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Get ready, everybody, because I just saw an adorable scene of baby animals cavorting with their mothers. As I watched them, I thought, “If you went into the forest looking for these critters, you’d rarely find them. Even if you were lucky enough to find them, well, where’s the magic in that? Like that old Candid Camera TV show revealed, the best things in life happen spontaneously.”

Before I reveal the cute baby animals, let’s get the ad over with now. And please don’t skip ahead to the next paragraph. You’re on your honor. (OK, I know half of my readers have already skipped ahead…I think I’ll mess with them and reveal the baby animals right now. They’re expecting, “Be sure and call Home Defenders,” but I’m not going to write that. Wait…I think I’ll fool those cheaters by pretending that I’ve already revealed the baby animals. Shh. Don’t tell. Ready?)

Gosh, readers, wasn’t that a great story about the baby animals? Wasn’t it awesome when they waddled to my feet and chirped away, as if to say, “Hey, two-legged giant, let’s be friends.” Wow! That’s a once in a lifetime experience!

OK, OK, I admit it—I’m just messing with you cheaters who skipped the ad. Ah, I forgive ya! Who likes ads? Not me.

Anyway, yesterday evening, on a Big Bear hiking trail, I saw a large group of quail—three mothers and twenty little ones. The mothers were leading the young with gentle chirps. I sat on a log and watched them as they slowly blended into the underbrush. The call of the mothers played on—forest music for the fortuitous hiker. As the lively group foraged, I wished them luck in Mother Nature’s unforgiving game of survival. Finally, as their happy chirps faded away, I headed for home.

Sometimes, on a great day, our forest goes “chirp” and says, “Smile, two-legged giant, you’re on Candid Camera!” 

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Where have all the ants, spiders, and rodents gone? Did we do something to offend them? Are we the only pest free community on Earth? Like the nutty guy in old Dracula movies says, “If this is true, it’s the most fantastic thing in the world!” 

But no, it’s not fantastic, pests are crawling all over the mountain, as usual. I just haven’t written about them lately because it’s more fun to write about grandpa’s chicken house, grandma’s rhubarb patch, homemade peach cobbler, and all the other back home things I’ve been writing about lately. Well, summer is almost here now and my mind is firmly back on bugs, so bye, bye, Americana cobbler, hello, pest advice for homeowners:

Only you—Hot summer days drive thirsty pests into your home, so if you see pests, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. And if you are the only one who doesn’t see pests, well, then…you’re the only one.

It was the Trilateral Commission, man!—Homeowners are usually correct when they say, “Mike, I’ve got bugs!” but when they try to identify the pest they ramble like guys who stay up night after night watching that Zapruder film. Here’s what our technicians need to know: a) What exactly are you seeing, hearing, or smelling? b) When did it start? Please, folks, save yourself a lot of teeth gnashing and let us identify the assassin, er, pest. 

Just the frass, ma’am—If you see a pile of droppings or sawdust, called “frass,” please don’t clean it up before our tech arrives. If you must tidy up, put the evidence in a baggie. Pest management is like a murder investigation and we Home Defenders need to see as much evidence as possible. 

And for you readers who prefer my articles to be about down home, Midwestern stuff, don’t worry—I’ve got a great story about my grandma’s sweet potato pie and my cousin Bobby’s ’67 Mustang that I’m just dying to share.

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Father’s day is around the corner and it’s time to sing the praises of dear old dad. Well, to be honest, I don’t have many praises to sing. Dad never started a business, let alone a pest business; he never had to drum up money for payroll in the dead of winter; he couldn’t write a newspaper article if he hired a hundred monkeys with a hundred typewriters working night and day. Dad had no skill at fixing anything—he even struggled to change the oil in our family car. When my scoutmaster assigned us kids to build little wooden race cars with our dads, Team Nolan came in dead last. 

So, did my dad teach me any practical skills? Absolutely. From the time we could walk, Dad threw batting practice and hit fly balls to all the kids in the neighborhood. Dad taught baseball.

I loved judging the arc of those fly balls and I would call out to Dad, “Hit the ball higher!” But after I was about twelve he couldn’t hit it high enough. Dad taught us the game mostly by pointing out our mistakes, and his words are burned in my brain: “You’re stepping in the bucket … you threw your head out … your shoulders aren’t square.” After games, he’d go over what I did right and what I did wrong—with an emphasis on what I did wrong. He wasn’t mean about it, that was just his way of coaching.

Now I’m a grown man and I realize that Dad did actually teach me practical skills beyond baseball. He taught me to take criticism and see my own mistakes. What could be more practical than that? From that tiny seed, I grew my own company, Home Defenders.

No, my dad didn’t teach me how to build little wooden race cars, but the lessons he taught me on those green Illinois fields could take a man to the top of the world.

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Haven’t we all burned down a barn or two? Maybe not. Last week I wrote about Uncle Keith burning down a barn on my grandparent’s Illinois farm. Well, when I was a kid, I too caused a barn fire on the farm. Here’s the story: 

At a July 4th family gathering, my younger brother and I were horsing around and lighting fireworks in an abandoned chicken house near the main farmhouse. The small structure was Uncle Keith’s old clubhouse, and it came furnished with a ratty old couch. Suddenly, we saw a mouse run under the couch. Well, this was our clubhouse and that critter’s impudence would not stand! After dangerously short deliberation, I decided to smoke the invader out. I pulled some stuffing from the couch, got it smoldering with a match, then shoved the smoking wad under the couch. Adios, mouse! We headed to Grandma’s house—her homemade peach cobbler and chocolate chip cookies beckoned.

Twenty minutes later, just as I savored that last morsel of peach cobbler, Grandpa burst through the kitchen door bellowing, “Who set the chicken house on fire?” Aunts, uncles, cousins and toddlers all stopped what they were doing and rushed outside and watched as the flames violently whipped skyward. My brother and I stood far behind our astonished kinfolk, guilt written all over our faces. Luckily, no one looked back.

Everyone knew we had been playing in the chicken house, so they sat us down at the kitchen table and the grilling began. We just kept blaming it on the fireworks. After a short trial, Grandpa rendered his verdict: not guilty, for lack of evidence. Dan and I breathed a sigh of relief, grabbed a handful of cookies, and went back to playing with fireworks. Life on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm was always good.

 And now, here’s this week’s punchline, sponsored by Home Defenders, “We’re not just bug guys, we’re Home Defenders!” And the punchline is: Well, at least I got that mouse out!