Ah, the smell of moist wood in the summertime!

Published 9:00 am Monday, May 15, 2023

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It is that time of year when love is in the air. I saw it last Sunday night under the streetlight in my neighborhood. It was so sweet. There they were, flirting around, so earnest, enthusiastic, and delicate. Slowly but surely, they paired off in twos, shed their gossamer appendages, and began the dance leading to a search for a quiet, dark place to start their life together and multiply.

Mickey Howley

I don’t know if you have ever witnessed the spectacle of this, a spring night termite swarm, but it fills one with wonder and dread. They’re so cute, like near-translucent love bugs; one would think they could not be aggressive and vicious later in life. It wasn’t my first time either; I‘ve seen the night light mating dance before, and more importantly, the resulting love nest and the damage done after.

Now this particular swarm could have possibly been one species of native termites, and termites, if they stay in the woods, are beneficial to the environment. But I’m pretty sure these were Formosans, a non-native species with a well-deserved reputation as building destroyers.

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We often say our historic commercial downtown is a brick-and-mortar area, but I’m telling you there’s a lot of tasty old wood in these buildings. And all termites like it hot and humid and moist. Sounds like Natchez most of the time.

In my neighborhood, where most of the houses are right at three-quarters of a century old, they are all wood, good wood. It is a termite’s in-love paradise.

In Natchez, where we say our buildings are our brand, and that is not much of an exaggeration, keeping a heads up for subterranean love bugs is essential. They need moisture. Here are the three most important rules about building preservation, as told to me by a high-ranking person at the National Trust for Historic Preservation DC office.

Keep it dry, keep it dry, keep it dry.

The keys are a good roof with water repellant exterior surfaces, and an efficient and functioning water drainage system to keep the foundation dry. Keep it dry and the building will live to see another generation.

Spring is also the season for getting back on the maintenance for your beloved wood structures. It will rain this summer, and it is going to be hot. Now is one of the best working times to be outside.

Keeping good paint on wood exposed to weather is key. It is easy and will save you money in the long run. Nobody likes rotten wood except our little pulp munchers.

There are some really good paint suppliers in this town, even one downtown, and the people working there have real product knowledge. I know because I asked and I’m buying and painting. There are fewer finer pleasures than rolling, stroking or brushing on quality liquid coverings over good wood. Deep satisfaction.

Mickey Howley is executive director of the Downtown Natchez Alliance and can be reached at mickey@NatchezDNA.org.