THE CHANGING SEASONS – JUNE 2016: THE SUMMER SOLSTICE

The Changing Seasons: June 2016

THE SUMMER SOLSTICE


The weather has been strange everywhere. A mild winter, followed by an early spring. The leaves were at least a week ahead of schedule. Out in the middle of the country, non-stop rain created massive flooding, while the west and southwest have had temperatures so high the forests turned to tinder. At least half a dozen states are burning as I write this. With temperatures over 100 degrees farenheit (40+ centigrade), there’s no relief in sight yet.

Home. The bare trees are maple and oak. The ash and other trees were left (mostly) in peace.

Home. The bare trees are maple and oak. The ash, catalpa and other trees were left (mostly) in peace.

Here, in southern New England, our mild winter was followed by plentiful, but not excessive rains and it looked like it would be a lovely summer with full rivers and ponds where the birds could nest and feed.

Then … the Gypsy Moth caterpillars arrived. A week into June, and suddenly, the house, the driveway, and every hardwood tree in the forest was covered by aggressive, destructive, invasive hairy eating machines. Millions and millions of caterpillars. Everywhere. You could hear them dropping as you drove, like hail on the car roof.

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In short order, they ate every leaf off every oak tree and for dessert, consumed the maples, apple, and every other fruit tree that was not protected. The ground was writhing with caterpillars to which many people are allergic, making leaving the house a nightmare. It was like living in a bad horror movie.

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Trapped in the house, we finally got someone to spray the house and surrounding areas. Within a couple of hours, they began dying … filling the roof, driveway, walks, and ground with the corpses of caterpillars.

And then, they began to vanish. As mysteriously as they arrived, they disappeared. Starvation? They had eaten everything they normally eat. Caterpillar plague? There is such a thing and generally, on heavy infestation years like this one, it breaks out and they die by the millions.

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The trees are trying to come back. There are spring-like buds on many of the trees. Not every tree, but most of them. The oaks are the slow to leaf in the spring and even slower to re-leaf after defoliation.

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The gardens had no flowers at all until today when suddenly, roses appeared. Not where they were last year or any of the previous years. They showed up in a completely new part of the garden, leaving dead bushes in their wake. The day lilies — only two blooming — are covered with hundred of buds. Strange vision, with the naked oak trees.

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Summer is here. There will, I hope, be new leaves on the maples and some of the oaks. But today, you can see winter bare trees against a blue sky on the summer solstice.

NOTE: All the pictures on this page — except for Garry’s caterpillars — were taken yesterday afternoon. Also note how the trees are full in some places, but bare in others.


What’s this «Changing Seasons» blogging challenge?

«The Changing Seasons 2016» is a blogging challenge with two versions: the original (V1) which is purely photographic and the new version (V2) where you can allow yourself to be more artistic and post a painting, a recipe, a digital manipulation, or simply just one photo that you think represents the month. Anyone with a blog can join this challenge and it’ll run throughout 2016. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t join the first month(s), late-comers are welcomed. These are the rules, but they’re not written in stone – you can always improvise, mix & match to suit your own liking:

These are the rules for Version 1 (The Changing Seasons V1):

  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons
  • Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery.
  • Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.

These are the rules for Version 2 (The Changing Seasons V2):

  • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons
  • Each month, post one photo (recipe, painting, drawing, whatever) that represents your interpretation of the month.
  • Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!

This is the second year of participating and it is turning out to be much more interesting than I imagined possible. For followers of climate change, this shows rather more than anyone anticipated. Even if you have not participated previously, it’s not too late to join!

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GREEN LEAVES BY THE POND

While here, at home, the trees are bare, a couple of miles away the world is normal. It’s odd the way the gypsy moth invasion has affected the area.

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We are the worst hit. South Uxbridge, Douglas, North Smithfield — we all have bare oaks and maples. The gardens look ragged and nothing is blooming. Not a day lily to be seen, nor a rose on any bush.

In trying to find a positive side to this experience, the best anyone has come up with was my son who pointed out we won’t have a lot of leaves to rake up this fall.

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Definitely will be an easy cleanup of autumn leaves but it isn’t likely to be an epic autumn, either. At least not at home. But down the road a couple of miles …

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The trees are full and green around the pond. The swans are nesting peacefully.

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It was good to find the world had not ended everywhere … just at our house!

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Some of the pictures are Garry’s, the others are mine. Both of us wished we had brought either another camera or a long lens. The swans were there, but too far off to capture with the equipment we’d brought. Still, for all that, it was good to see green and growing trees.

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Tiny buds are appearing on our trees. If the caterpillars don’t get them, we’ll have leaves again. I hope.

A BEAUTIFUL TOWN

 

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This is a small town with a long history, for an American town. First settled in 1662, incorporated in 1727, we are the middle of the Blackstone Valley. Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. We led the nation with some of the first mills and factories.

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Ours was a bustling town, industrious and forward-thinking. We had some of the finest schools, research facilities, and  hospitals. Our library was among the first free libraries in the nation. We were leaders. We had the first hospital for the mentally ill where they were cared for — as opposed to locking them in cages.

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In the early 1900s, the mills and factories moved south, following the cotton. When they moved away, they left crumbling buildings, a polluted river and a persistent unemployment problem. But it wasn’t all bad.

Crown and Eagle mill

It gave the valley’s natural beauty a chance to recover. By 1973, the Blackstone River was one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S. Today, it’s close to clean. Not completely, but substantially. There’s work still to be done, but it has come a long way. If you give nature a chance, she will come back. Sometimes, she needs a helping hand.

Farmhouse May

Farmland become forests. Parks were created and historical sites preserved. In 1986, the valley was designated as The John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor (a National Heritage Corridor — the newest U.S. National Park). It’s dedicated to the history of the early American Industrial Revolution. The corridor stretches across 400,000 acres and includes 24 cities and towns. It follows the course of the river through Worcester County, Massachusetts down to its end in Providence County, Rhode Island. Uxbridge is the middle.

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As a 21st century town, we don’t have a lot going for us. Little in the way of industry or business. No shopping centers. No night life or entertainment — not even a movie theater or coffee-house (but there are golf courses). No public transportation. Decent schools, but nothing exceptional. Not much in the way of services and if you live where we do, almost none.

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We’re too far from Boston to be a true commuter town and too built up for a resort, though we were, once. I remember driving up here from New York when I was a young woman because the leaves are especially beautiful in the autumn and you could buy a phenomenal pumpkin.

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UU Church 47

What we have is some history, a bit of classic architecture, and nature. Glorious, rich, and bountiful nature. The area teems with life from turtles and trout, to beaver and deer. You are always near a river in Uxbridge, even if you can’t see it. It meanders through the valley, streams through parks, and under old stone bridges.

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The river widens into ponds where herons, swans, geese, and ducks build nests. The trout are back. We even have a couple of designated swimming places and they are never crowded. October in the valley, in Uxbridge, can break your heart with its beauty.

West Dam

So why don’t we protect it? Why do we act like it has no value? Why does the town act as if nature is the least valuable of our assets, useful for exploitation and always ready to sell it for industrial use?

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It is our only asset. If we don’t protect it, this will be an ugly little town in the middle of nowhere. There will be no reason for anyone to want to be here.

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It does not have to be that way. There’s an attitude of  “oh well, it’s just trees.” This Gypsy Moth infestation has been devastating in this south part of the town. Other parts seem barely affected, but it’s patchy. When you drive up and down Route 122, you will go through sections of trees still in full leaf, then acres of bare oaks.

They can — and do — come back for another year of mass tree defoliation. Given the danger, taking measures to protect from a second year of infestation is cheap compared to the cost of losing the only thing we have going for us.

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Trees recover from defoliation once.

Twice in a row? You lose a lot of trees.

Thrice? You will have forests full of dead trees.

How many years would it take to recover from that? Would we recover?

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It’s time to treasure the beauty of this town and protect it. The “it’s no big deal” attitude is, not to put too fine a point on it, wrong. Short-sighted in the extreme. It is a very big deal. Our only big deal.

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THE DAILY POST | PERFECTION

NEWS FLASH! GREAT SPRAY IN THE MORNING!

He came. He sprayed. And now … we wait for millions of invading aliens to die.

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The guy from Turf Technologies says that we get the prize for the worst infestation of property he has ever seen. Anywhere. Is this an honor? Do we get a statuette?

Remember space invaders anyone? The aliens just kept coming. You kept shooting, but there were always more, and more, and more. It’s like that.

He sprayed everything — the shed, the house, the deck, the cars, the foundation. It should take an hour or so for them to start dying by the millions and then, I need my son — who is big and strong enough to manage the leaf blower — to clear the rubble away. After work.

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This isn’t going to end the siege — though every little bit helps — because they are in the trees, the shrubs, cars, deck, railings, and ground. I hope this will enable us to come and go without being covered with them. Even that little would help.

During my 5 minute conversation with Chris — me in the front door and he by his truck halfway up the driveway — I had to keep a broom in my hand as the army of the hairy and hungry tried to invade the house, falling on me, and into the doorway. It’s mind-boggling.

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I took some pictures through the screen door on the porch. Even with the reduced sharpness caused by the screen, if you look, you can see them on the branches and beams.

I get the feeling that Mother Nature is pissed off. I can understand it … but why us? We’ve been good.

Cross your fingers! Lets hope this works! ‘Cause if it doesn’t, I don’t know what more we can do.

NATURAL YET HORRID | THE DAILY POST

STRUGGLING WITH THE FORCES OF DARKNESS

We are in the midst of what feels like a life-and-death struggle to survive an alien invasion. Today marks the ninth day of the siege. It feels longer.

Anyone who has ever been seriously ill, or recuperating from major surgery, knows the feeling. The early worst agony passes. You’re too sick to do anything much, but well enough to be fed up with being sick. Bored by pain, weary of being off your feet. The sound of your own complaining is aggravating. You feel like “this movie needs a good editing!” except it’s real life and doesn’t work that way.

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The day is beautiful, the sky brilliant blue. It’s gorgeous as a backdrop for the bare limbs of tall oaks. I’ve gotten (almost) used to the look of naked trees in June. The catalpa and sassafras have leaves because they are least favorite trees for the caterpillars. The forsythia are safe for the same reason, at least for now. The hairy caterpillars have not yet eaten all the maples. No doubt they’ll get to them. Soon.

Life’s a struggle. We struggle to be born. We struggle to grow up, to make a life, a difference. To find meaning. Struggling to survive an alien caterpillar invasion was never on my list of likely scenarios. Call me crazy, but of all the things I imagined might one day happen to me, this never even made the bottom of the list. Insect invasions were the stuff of John Steinbeck novels and Egyptian plagues.

People have commented that they could never cope with this. That’s pretty much what I would have said had this been happening to someone else and me merely reading about it.

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So I’m here to tell you that when you have no choice, you cope. You manage. What else can you do? Lay on the floor and try to die? Go live somewhere else? Where? Maybe if you’re young enough with still living parents, you can go back to mom for a while … but at our age, we are where the kids come when all else fails.

Whatever struggle is involved, we deal with it to the best of our ability. That’s life for you. As I gaze out my picture window I see the swaying naked oak trees, the remaining leafy branches of catalpa and sassafras trees. I see a robin chowing down on caterpillars. It’s a banquet year for local birds who eat the caterpillars. I expect to see fat robins and juncos. It’s their movable (moving) feast.

I also see caterpillars creeping up the glass and along the sills. If I look up, the eaves are covered with them. As is the foundation of the house and the driveway, the deck, and lawn furniture.


The sprayers are coming, the sprayers are coming. Today! Not sure exactly when. Might not be until late, but days are long this time of year.


One of these weeks, these millions of caterpillars will become millions of moths. Who will lay mega-millions of eggs. Something to which we can all look forward, eh?

LIFE IN A POST-APOCALYPTIC SMALL TOWN

I always thought it would be zombies. Lurching dead people yearning to eat my brain, shambling around moaning. But it isn’t. Nope, it’s caterpillars. Gypsy moth caterpillars. Coming not to eat me (so far), but anything that’s green and growing. And doing a damned good job of it, too, I should add.

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They stripped the tall oaks in a day and a night. Without missing a beat, they cleaned off the birch trees, rhododendrons and got to work on the maples and firs. The pine trees will die. They can’t survive defoliation. I’m told by others that they are including any fruit trees they can get to, probably as a light dessert.

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The ground is seething with caterpillars, the house crawling with them. It’s the end of life on earth? Probably not … unless they come again next year and then, it might be.

They are killing my fuchsia, eating the unconquerable day lilies. Are even the hosta safe?

Call it the apocalypse of the trees. If trees could talk to us, I’m sure they would agree.

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When they are finally gone, which will be in about a month, give or take a week or two, there will be a lot of rebuilding to do. Essentially, everyone will have to recreate their plantings, clear out the corpses, and come up with a plan.

2016. Remember this date. This is the year the gypsy moths beat the humans in a blowout game of epic proportions.

REBUILDING IN A POST-APOCALYPTIC SMALL TOWN

NOTE: As I was reading this, having just pressed “Publish,” I noticed a phalanx of the hairy bastards crawling up the side of the sofa accompanied by several big black ants. Are they building a united front?

I sprayed the hell out of everything and now, breathing is dicey. I just killed another ant crawling across my keyboard. Do we want to discuss “creeped out?”

I’m almost nostalgic about the good old days when ants and mice in season were the worst of the invaders.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY … UPDATED!

Yesterday, I realized we can’t spend the summer locked in our house with doors and windows sealed.

The invasion, now an official worst in living memory gypsy moth attack in the Uxbridge-Whitinsville area, has made it onto all the local network affiliates. This is likely to force the town to figure out how to prevent this happening again — but worse — next summer.

It’s too late to save the summer. The oak trees are bare. So are all the birch. The caterpillars are finishing off the maple and pines. They’ve killing my fuchsia and the garden is dead before anything had a chance to bloom. The damage is done. The pines are gone for good; they won’t come back. The caterpillars are way out of control and marching north. We may have been the first, but we won’t be the last.

The little crawling eating machines are not finished. They will keep chomping on anything they can digest until they become moths and stop eating– at least a month from now. Then, instead, they will begin laying millions of eggs to ensure the next generation.

That’s the life of gypsy moths. Eat a forest. Dump excrement everywhere. Morph into ugly brown and white moths (the white ones — females — can’t fly). Lay millions of eggs. Repeat until there are no trees left standing.

Late yesterday, UPS delivered my marmalade and jellies. Neither Garry nor I had the stomach to retrieve the package. This morning, I geared up. Long dress. Clogs with socks. Long sleeved over-shirt. I couldn’t find a hat, so I just did perpetual motion. It was lovely out there. I haven’t been outside for a couple of days. I almost forgot what a delightful time of year this is.

I spotted the package on the sidewalk in front of the wellhead, by the front gate.

Which is when, looking down, realized the ground is writhing with caterpillars. The package was covered with them. A small package, yet so many hairy brown crawlers. I knocked them off the package, grabbed it, and ran for the door, stomping them back from the entrance, hearing them crunching under my feet. OH YUCK.

Coming in, I opened the marmalade and the ginger jelly, put in an English muffin to toast and took a deep breath. I made it. I was out maybe 3 minutes or less? Glad I have a pacemaker. It kept my heart from stopping.

I settled down with coffee and a muffin and two (TWO!!) kinds of sweets. Very good. Delicious. Hot coffee, sweet muffin, and I’m alive, alive. The caterpillars didn’t get me!

The phone range. It was Lance of Turf Technologies Inc. calling, as promised. Quick conversation and he said “This is now, officially the worse infestation ever. Good for you. People like you squawking is probably why the news picked it up.”

I know, because — I’m married to a news guy. I may not know much, but I know if you make noise and pique their interest, the news people will come. Maybe the powers-that-be — the ones around here making like ostriches — will take notice. As the days roll on with no relief, I become increasingly less hopeful.


One of the worst side effects of this mess is that I’m horribly depressed. I sit here, watching summer slip away, realizing there’s nothing more I can do. There’s a package outside somewhere. It’s a movie I ordered from Amazon, but neither of us is willing to look for it, not if it means going outside.

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A neighbor posted this picture. It could just as easily be my house. That’s what it looks like. I’m not taking any pictures because I can’t bring myself to go out. I haven’t been out of the house for nearly a week. I suppose that’s contributing to the depression.

No matter how horrible it is for us, I can’t imagine how bad it is for the farmers. This is apple orchard country. We’ve got farms. Trees, corn, dairy cattle. I can’t imagine how they are coping with this and what a economic catastrophe this will be for them.

This is the worst summer ever.