Big Surreality

Detail of one of Lena's ladybug sketchesMy alibi is airtight—on the day of the crime, March 3rd, 2007, I was with my family in a minivan, driving south on I-5. But that afternoon someone left a small plastic bag full of ladybugs inside in the gallery of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There was an exhibition of Belgian artist Rene Magritte’s work going on when the ladybugs began crawling out. Luckily, a sharp eyed security guard saw the ladybugs escaping the bag. The crowded museum was evacuated, and the ladybugs were apprehended. The March fourth edition of the LA Times reported that “no one was injured and no artworks were damaged.” Well duh! What did the Times expect? Magritte liked to paint bizarre images of a stolid, bourgeoisie figure dressed in a conservative suits with oversized green apples floating in front of the his face. Were the ladybugs going to feed on the green apples? Obviously no, because ladybugs eat the insects that feed on plants. So were the ladybugs likely to jump an innocent museum patron and suck the blood out of her Gucci bag? Maybe yes, considering that Hollywood is only a few miles from the LACMA. I can imagine the previews for “SWARM” Demi Moore is the fearless mother who fends off a plague of vengeful ladybugs that want to eat her children. Matt Damon is the brave firefighter who burns down the seething nest of spotted killers.

My farm is named after the ladybug—mariquita means ladybug in Spanish—and I count on beneficial insects like the ladybug to control the insect pests on my farm. I can hardly imagine a cuter or more useful insect friend than the ladybug. If I didn’t have ladybugs on my farm I’d be compelled to go buy some. I’m proud to say that I’m gradually creating an environment on the farm that attracts ladybugs from around the area and convinces them to stay. We had an open house at our farm this spring. A bunch of children came to the fields and they were excited to find ladybugs crawling around in the fava bean patch. Maybe the LA Times can report that “no one was injured .”

Isn’t it amazing that the public gets so freaked out about bugs and nature that (in)security guards feel like they have to treat a hand full of ladybugs like a terrorist threat. I’m hoping that the guards vacated the museum so they could save the ladybugs from getting trod on by careless visitors. I want to believe that the security guards took the ladybugs into the gardens outside of the museum and gently blew them aloft, chanting “ladybugs, ladybugs, fly away home.” Maybe the expelled museum patrons watched in a hush as the ladybugs took flight into LA’s smoggy yellow skies. Then everyone clapped, the music swelled, the credits rolled, and the City Of Angels opened it wings and its heart to the ladybugs.

Yeah, right. Rene Magritte was a confirmed surrealistic, so he would probably have been amused at the chaos provoked by the ladybugs. I don’t mind surrealism—it’s what sometimes passes for “realism” that’s got me worried.

1 Response to “Big Surreality”


  1. 1 Tim Bray

    The part I don’t understand is the evacuation - ??? Did they suspect the ladybugs were accomplices in some terrorist plot, carrying Ricin or maybe radioactive material? But then I remembered: this is LA we’re talking about. Logic and reason would be out of place.

    I cover-cropped my orchard and garden areas for a full year, with bell beans, field peas, and vetch, intending to add nitrogen to my sandy soil. I didn’t realize it would also add such an immense population of ladybugs! Now I’m thinking I should keep some marginal areas in cover crop all the time, just to keep the population strong. They really stuck it to the aphids last year.

    Thanks for such interesting and well-written entries. One of your CSA customers pointed me here.

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