The colorful autumn leave as well as delicate shades of green leaves will lose something when translated to black and white. However, the shape and form of trees in black and white is amplified, especially in silhouette against a bright sky.
This summer has been a nightmare. A waking nightmare. For anyone whose nightmare images are hairy crawling things coming to get you, we had’em. A LOT of them. Everywhere. Falling from the trees and the eaves. Writhing underfoot.
When one day, we woke up to find our world covered — and I mean really covered — in gypsy moth caterpillars, it was the beginning of nightmare time for me and a lot of other people. Not only do they defoliate all the hardwood trees — with oak being a particular favorite — but they get into everything. They slither around your house, piggyback on your pets, crawl down your collar. They are also ever so slightly poisonous.
A quick contact with one can leave you with raised welts that hurt and itch for weeks.
Now, the caterpillars are done with us for the year. The leaves are coming back and finally, even the naked tall oaks are looking more like trees and less like skeletons.
There are still a lot of moths out there laying eggs. I don’t know whether or not next year will be a rerun. If yes, it will be a very bad year for the trees.
The hot weather we’re currently having (it’s going up to almost 100 today) will help destroy some of the egg. A decent amount of rain would help even more.
Nightmare? My nightmare is caterpillars. Everywhere … and when the world is quiet, you can hear them eating the trees. That’s my nightmare … and it was real.
No question about it now. The oaks are growing new leaves. The process is going faster some places than others and there’s no apparent reason why. There were still a lot of moths around on Friday, but today, no more than a few futilely flapping through the end of their lives. I have never been happier to see the end of any creatures.
And so, the fuchsia are soldiering on and the leaves are growing back on the trees. Is this the end of the story or merely an intermission?
We don’t usually see sunsets in the summer here. The trees typically hide the sky. But this year, having had our oak trees thoroughly defoliated by the gypsy moth caterpillars, we have an almost wintry view of the western horizon.
I looked out the window and I said “Oh, look … what a pretty sky!” So I grabbed my Olympus and ran out front, ignoring the dive bombing moths. Then, I went back inside, popped the chip into the computer and started to process. Ten minutes later, I looked up and said, “Oh, MY!”
Garry looked over and said, “You’d better move!” and luckily, I had the Panasonic loaded for bear and I hot-footed it to the front for the second act of the show.
You can sort of see that there are the beginning of new leaves on the oak trees. Some of the maples still have leaves … others don’t. I’m not sure why they ate one tree and not another. That’s probably too existential a question to ask when dealing with caterpillars.
We all battle monsters. Real monsters. Monsters “from the id,” and those monsters that dwell in our subconscious. And of course, there are the monsters that are us.
Ever since the weather went from winter to warm, I’ve felt as if my back is against the wall and the demons are closing in. This is not the way I usually feel. I’ve been through a lot of crap over the years. Physically, mentally, socially. I’ve gone through enough rough patches to feel like “rough” is perfectly normal to be dealt with by wearing sturdy sandals.
This year my defenses were breached. Being attacked by a zillion poisonous, ravening caterpillars … while all I could do in response was hide indoors was a uniquely horrible experience which I hope never to repeat. It has taken a toll. I am mentally exhausted and more than a little freaked out.
The worst of the horror show is over, I know. The trees have been defoliated and are apparently recovering. There are a million or several million moths zooming about the humid air. If they were at least pretty, it would help.
Gypsy Moths aren’t pretty. They are little. Dull brown, taupe, or gray. Except for the non-flying females who are white. None of the moths do anything at this stage. After morphing into moths, they no longer eat. They lay or fertilize eggs, fly aimlessly here and there … then die.,
I can hardly wait.
That this could conceivably recur again next year makes me want to cry. I’m sure that we’ll survive, but somehow, it isn’t much of a comfort.
There’s much irony going around because on most other rational levels, life is going quite well. So why do I feel like a bad version of Macbeth is being staged in my head?
After a complete defoliation by voracious gypsy caterpillars, there are signs of recovery in the woods.
It’s hard to find an up-side to a gypsy moth infestation, but if any exists, it’s that you not only get more light without the trees blocking the sun, but you can actually see the birds. I hear them, but usually they are hidden high in the trees.
Right now, there’s no place to hide. You can see the beginnings of a new crop of leaves. A second spring is coming. In another few weeks, most of the trees will have leaves again.
Some places seem to be rebounding a lot faster than others. I don’t yet know what that means … if it means anything.
And so our forest, stripped of most of its leaves, deprived of the means to manufacture nourishment, endures. Hints of a second spring give us hope that our beautiful woods will make it through the siege. Most of the oaks and maples will survive. I hope losses will be few.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.