The Spirea japonica started blooming last week, which means that the aphids were out in force. Each slender flower stalk rippled with successive rows of the little life-sucking critters, tended by worker ants who collect the honeydew that the aphids excrete. It looked like a pretty serious infestation, the sort of thing that might cause an industrious gardener to run for the bottle of Ortho spray. I am far from industrious, however, so I decided to let the self-correcting mechanisms of my little corner of the ecosystem play out.
Sure enough, inspection of the bushes a few days later found the flowers in full bloom, their stalks bearing only a few aphid remains. The cause could be found lurking on the undersides of several leaves: ladybug larvae. They looked like tiny black accordians with legs, and they had completely cleared all the aphids from every spirea in the yard.
Each spring for the past five years this little drama has repeated itself, and each year I feel the same sense of anticipation and affirmation. First I discover the aphid infestation and am tempted to get the hose and blast them all off (a very effective, non-pesticidal response.) Then I counsel myself to wait: if I get rid of the aphids, the ladybugs won’t come. I decide to check back in a few days, and voila! There they are! How can something so entirely predictable feel so miraculous?
Maybe the wonder lies in the fact that even the most probable thing isn’t guaranteed. Something might happen to change it, to keep it from happening as expected. There are thousands of reasons why the ladybugs might fail to appear on my spireas each spring, from environmental conditions to pathogens to just plain bad luck. Some incalculable maze of probabilities has been navigated every spring when they seem to arrive on cue, and I can’t help but feel giddy with joy and amazement.