“Without A Trace” was a television show where the FBI searched for missing people, often children.

It was a pretty good show. It went off the air a few years ago along with a lot of shows we used to watch. Speaking of “without a trace,” so many of the shows we used to watch have ended and the replacements are … well … not so wonderful.

We like “Bull”, Michael Weatherly’s new one. He’s really still Tony from NCIS, but more mature and a lot less annoying. They have removed his childishness, which was his least attractive characteristic and I’m glad his show is doing well.

We finally turned off “The Black List” the other night. I loved the show when it came on.  James Spader as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington was a complex, lethal, but fascinating character. Somewhere during this past year, they seem to have lost their path. In some attempt to make the show “different,” it merely became intensely brutal and violent with revolving plots about the exact same stuff they supposedly fixed in previous seasons. I hope they find their feet again. Sooner would be nicer than eventually.

So much of our television has moved to the streaming channels of Roku. Netflix and Acorn are the big winners and last night, finally, season five of “House of Cards” came back to our screens.

It’s still an amazing show, but reality has so altered since “House of Cards” went on the air, that the bizarre stuff they are doing in fiction hardly seems crazier than what our so-called government is doing. That is not the fault (obviously) of the show. It just demonstrates how bad things have gotten here in the United States. How terribly frightening. There’s nothing they can do in fiction that we aren’t sure is being done for real in Washington DC.

Yesterday, many shows were talking about the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. We watched him speak. We listened to the elegance of the language, the hopes for our future and the future of the world. We mentally compared it to the travesty of our current government.

Personally, I cringed. The United States has become an embarrassment internationally, a horror show domestically. A shame. An indignation. A frightening joke among the world’s players.

How did we let ourselves fall to this? How could this happen?


A Marriage Equality Story, by Rich Paschall

When Eddie went into the army, Marge and her husband Edgar decided to leave the Midwest and head for Arizona.  As each year had past, Edgar found the winters increasingly difficult and the summers impossible.  When the spring and fall brought allergies on and the summer humidity brought breathing difficulty, the decision was easy.  It was time to go south.

Marge received a transfer to a Mesa, Arizona store and Edgar was sure he would find work if only he could breathe easier.  They took their daughter with them, although she had reached 21 years of age.  She did not know what she wanted to do in life and a change of location seemed like a good idea.

Eddie had worked for two years after high school and then decided the army would be his best start in life.  After the army, he would use his benefits to go to college and make his life better.  While in the army, he lost weight, matured and became a handsome young man who made his parents proud.

Even though Marge was a rather conservative type, she learned to use social media and followed along on Facebook and twitter hoping to see more of Eddie.  He was on Facebook, but actually used it very little.  When he posted some pictures from a Middle East cook out with his fellow soldiers, his proud mother shared the pictures all over the internet.  Eddie did not post much after that.

Marge spent some time each day, and much time on her day off, posting on Facebook and reading internet articles.  She would “like” things she thought were good and sometimes comment on postings and news stories.  Although she did not consider herself very political, she did seem to agree more with Republican postings than anything else.  Her friends started avoiding posting political items to her page.  It was better that way.

Whenever Eddie was on leave from the service, he visited friends in Chicago and then went on to Phoenix to see his parents.  When Marge would ask Eddie what he did in Chicago and who he saw, she got vague answers.  Eddie said little about his personal life.  He told next to nothing about friends or the service.  His mother thought it was just a phase that young men go through.  She figured he would tell her a lot more when he got out of the army.

When he was nearing the end of his time in the service, Marge asked Eddie if he would join them Phoenix or return to the Midwest.  He told her he would move to Chicago.

“Chicago!” she exclaimed.  “Why do you want to move there?  It is not safe there.  It is expensive to live and the job market is not the best.  You can get a job here.  I can help you.”

“I want to go to school there,” Eddie explained.  “I have friends there.  I will get a job, don’t worry.”  He spent months assuring his mother he would be fine until the day came when he got his discharge and went home to Chicago. Eddie saw his mother’s Facebook postings on a regular basis and that only convinced him to keep his personal life to himself.

He got an apartment, a job and made friends.  He enrolled in a city college with his army benefits and was happy with his life.  He assured his mother that all was well. After following along on Facebook, Marge decided she did not like the direction the country was headed.  She did not like the liberal policies and she would definitely vote a more conservative ticket.  It was easy to find friends online who agreed.

One day, an old friend from the Midwest called Marge.  She was excited about the latest news and could not wait to talk to her old friend about it.

“Hello Marge, you must be so excited.  I must tell you I was so surprised.  Did you see the picture they just posted?”

“Picture?” Marge asked.  “What picture? What are you talking about?”

Her old friend just laughed.  “Why, the wedding picture of course!  Did you know they were going to city hall?  Did you know which day it would be?”

“Who are you talking about?” Marge demanded.  A long silence followed while Marge’s friend wondered if the whole matter was actually a secret.  It seems that Eddie was tagged in pictures by others, but he had posted nothing himself.  The friend thought carefully about what to say next.

“Oh, it is something I saw on Facebook.  Perhaps you should go look at a few pictures that Eddie is tagged in and we can talk later.  OK?”  After some vague promise to call back soon, the old friend hung up and Marge raced to her computer.

The PC started slowly and Facebook seem to take extra long to load up.  It was no different than usual, but this time the wait was maddening.  Finally Marge got online and found the pictures that her old friend referred to.  There was Eddie at City Hall getting married.

Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto

Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto

The fact that Eddie married without telling her in advance was upsetting.  The fact that she did not know the other person at all was also upsetting.  But the most surprising part of all was that the groom took another groom.  Her handsome, white, middle class son had married a handsome Hispanic man of about the same age.  In one picture, they were looking deep into one another’s eyes as if they were truly in love.

Marge was stunned.  She had no idea that Eddie was gay or loved the young man she had seen in the photos.

After she stared at the pictures for a while, she started reading back through her Facebook posts and “likes” to see if she had said anything negative about Hispanics or gays.

Related story: Seeing Things Differently


They are back. Not in our back yard (yet), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t here. If they are up in the trees, we won’t see them for a week or two. Meanwhile, a couple of miles down the road, they are munching away on my son’s trees. He has managed to rescue a beloved old apple tree, but the oaks are going down for a second year.

The cold, wet weather is on our side. I may complain about it because it really sets off the arthritis, but it may save us — to some extent — from the caterpillars. As long as it stays chilly and rainy, there’s a decent chance the invasion will be minimal. If not, it will most likely be worse than last year, something I have trouble imagining and which has both of us seriously creeped out.

Garry isn’t normally afraid of bugs, but he has developed a healthy loathing for these invaders.

Last year, they ate about 350,000 acres of hardwoods. If the weather dries up and the temperatures go up, they could easily knock off twice as much this year. Many people have been spraying and every little bit helps. We’ll get sprayed again, probably next week.

If you live in New England and you are seeing well-grown caterpillars — they would be the ones showing blue and/or red dots on their back — I’d appreciate you letting me know where you are and how bad it appears to be. Right now is when we would be heading into the worst of the invasion. June is the month. The caterpillars feed well into June, at the end of which they pupate and form cocoons.

The 2016 outbreak was the largest gypsy moth outbreak in the state since the early 1980s. In the 1980s, the damage was even more widespread, with 900,000 acres of woods stripped in 1980 and 2 million defoliated acres in 1981.

More recently gypsy moth damage hasn’t been as bad because, since about 1989, a caterpillar-killing fungus has greatly reduced their numbers. But drought conditions in 2015 and 2016 reduced the fungus’ ability to infect young caterpillars and the population boomed. This spring’s cool, rainy weather has the potential to save us. The fungus might make enough of a comeback to dent the caterpillar population for the remainder of 2017.

Defoliated oaks in July 2016

Neither of us remembered the 1980s invasions. Garry was living in Boston in a high-rise in the 1980s while I lived in Jerusalem. That’s probably why it took us so long to figure out what was happening. I looked through my posts from last year. This was approximately when we started to realize something ugly was happening. Between the end of May and a week later, I stopped leaving the house. At all. Three weeks later, the caterpillars had eaten every leaf on every tree.

Invasion map for 2016. We live in the big red patch at the bottom (on the Rhode Island border) in the middle of the state. It was bad.

These invasions are usually a couple of years which run together. The second year is typically worse than the first.

I’m trying not to make myself insane with worry, but it is hard not to worry. Ignore my complaints about the cold, wet weather. Bring on more cold wet weather. Keep it wet and keep it chilly. It’s our best defense against the killer creepers.

The caterpillar pictures Garry took at our house were as of June 9, 2016, the beginning of the worst part of the invasion. We aren’t there yet, so all we can do is hope … worry … then hope a little more.


What is a gypsy moth?

It’s a species of moth native to Europe and Asia. Historians believe they were first introduced to Massachusetts by Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, a Medford-based amateur entomologist who tried to breed a hybrid gypsy-silk moth in the late 1860s. To say that his attempts to produce a silkworm went wildly awry doesn’t begin to cover the damage that has resulted from his doomed experiments. Gypsy moths have spread across the continent, down into Mexico and up into Canada, including Alberta.

Why do I keep hearing about them?

Last year, Massachusetts saw its first major gypsy moth infestation in 35 years. A specific variety of fungus typically keeps the invasive species in check, but a statewide drought last year kept fungus levels low and allowed the gypsy moth population to balloon. And as of late last month, scientists said this season’s eggs are beginning to hatch—setting the state up for another bout with the creatures. Unless the bad weather keeps them in check, this could be a very bad year. Worse than last year.

What’s the big deal about some moths?

Gypsy moth caterpillars are responsible for mass deforestation. Last year, they stripped leaves from more than 350,000 acres of trees across Massachusetts, with the heaviest concentration in eastern and central parts of the state. They favor oak, aspen, apple, and willow trees, especially. Full-grown gypsy moth caterpillars are 1.5 to 2 inches long. A single larva can consume as much as a square foot of leaves per day, according to the University of Illinois Extension website. Last year, we could actually hear them chewing. It’s a horrible sound.\he caterpillars go on to produce a proportional amount of fecal matter, which can make it impossible to enjoy outdoor activities. The trees are left bare, limiting autumn foliage and allowing sunlight into parts of the woods which are normally shaded. Not good for plants or animals.

Any danger to people?

Yes. Although gypsy moth caterpillars do not bite, they frequently cause a red, itchy rash. Garry got a nasty one last year on his arms. The rash can last a few days or weeks. Wear long sleeves, a hat, long pants, socks, closed shoes, and gloves if you need to handle them. If you develop a rash, take antihistamines to relieve itching, or see your doctor if it’s very bad.

Is there anything I can do to keep them away?

If you spotted gypsy moth eggs in your trees earlier this year or late last year — Massachusetts Wildlife Magazine describes them as “tawny brown egg masses”—now’s the time to call a tree care professional, who can safely apply pesticides to keep the caterpillars at bay. Mass Audubon also suggests a number of DIY solutions.

And regardless, if you were invaded last year, there’s every reason to assume — whether you see them or not — they are on the way.