Imagine two pedals from a white Cosmos blossom, flying low just above the blades of grass and fallen patches of leaves. Her wings were pale, as if she was a flower that had not received enough light or chlorophyll to bring full color. It was November 16th just before the eight o’clock train came through town, and thirty-eight degrees. Where did this moth come from and how had this delicate creature survived the freezing nights and cold days?
I was feeling all romantic and poetic about this little moth, conjuring up metaphors and verses as Rabia and I sat on our bench by the lake. We had uncharacteristically had a nighttime sit the evening before and now we were back and enjoying a fortunately formed morning scene of brilliant sun, lake glimmers, and late dawn-tinged clouds. At least that is what I was enjoying. Rabia was slumped against me enjoying a tummy rub.
When I returned home I did a little research on that moth. I wanted to know if it had hatched too early because of a few warm days or had survived this far into the only season of its life.What I discovered sucked all the poetry out of witnessing her flight across frost-gilded grass.
It turns out this little pale moth is an invasive species that endangers trees! Indeed, it’s name is Winter Moth and is of European origin, and emerges to lay eggs from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Caterpillars then hatch in the spring and start eating the trees in whose bark the eggs have been planted. They like hardwoods, maples and oaks especially. The larvae can actually blow in the wind and travel between trees so it isn’t easy to eradicate them.
But listen to this horror movie. “Joseph Elkinton, an entomology professor at UMass Amherst, is trying to combat the problem by releasing a parasitic fly that lays eggs on leaves. Winter moth caterpillars eat the eggs, which hatch inside the caterpillars. The fly larva then eat the caterpillars from the inside out.” (The Berkshire Eagle). Apparently this method works pretty well.
So what have we learned from this morning sit by the lake and the impulse toward poetry when in fact, what is in the field around us is an invasive species endangering our blessed trees? Nature, of which we are a part, is indifferent to us even as we embrace it as if a watercolor landscape over which to ooh and ah.
We often forget how hostile the environment is that we live in because we build heated homes that protect us from the wind, and we drive heated cars through the ice and snow surrounding us for up to six months of the year. Ironically then, it is those very protections we put in place that have made the environment even harsher. But that only causes us to ratchet up our resistance by building better and more energy hungry and carbon-spewing protections, which then continues to spike Nature’s fury.
This very scenario is the reason that becoming more carbon-neutral is so important. Being slightly colder or hotter, just a little more uncomfortable than we would like, is part of the adjustment we need to make. Let’s remember, Nature is not something beyond us but something we are a small part of and that will swallow us eventually. All that from a little moth.