The End of the Caterpocalypse

Caterpillars are fascinating in the singular, disgusting and devastating in the plural. I don’t believe it was technically a record year for the number of gypsy moth caterpillars, but they ate enough leaves to transform large areas of Southern New England into leafless wasteland. Driving through some of those areas, I began to think, “An actual apocalypse could start out looking like this.”

We’re in the final days of The Caterpocalypse*. The caterpillars are basically all gone now, but their effects remain.

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All those leaves are caterpillar food. Maybe the childrens book The Very Hungry Caterpillar isn’t so cute after all.

Comparing those bare trees to an apocalypse was kind of a dramatic thought. But then, it was a dramatic sight. During the weeks that this happened, I wasn’t online much, didn’t have many hours at either of my jobs, and didn’t really leave home a lot either. I hadn’t seen any news of the caterpillars at all. I was basically a writer-hermit, and it was a shock when I went to visit my parents and saw thick shag carpets of gypsy moth caterpillars trying to climb past barriers of cardboard and duct tape.

It started with the noise: the sound of rain falling when there was no rain. My brother informed me that this was the sound of caterpillar crap falling from the trees. I didn’t totally believe him; in my head, I filed what he had said in the same space as urban legends. And yet, every time I heard that noise, I couldn’t shake what he’d said. It kind of made sense, and well, my car was covered with little black dots that had to have come from somewhere.

The annoying and disgusting aspects of all this presented themselves first: caterpillar droppings, difficulty eating outdoors, lack of shade from the hot sun, rashes from the caterpillars. I cheered on my chickens as they cleared the caterpillars from the area surrounding their coop. They ate so many that they got tired of them. But the possible consequences of the situation occurred to me soon after. What if the leaves didn’t grow back?

The trees would die.

I told myself that it’s probably unlikely that we’d have a legitimate ecological apocalypse. But then, things like that do happen. My line of thinking basically boiled down to, “It can’t happen here.” But of course, it could.

Right now, I’m reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. His discussion of social epidemics starts with a discussion of actual disease epidemics. What’s scary is that not a lot has to change for an existing disease to expand massively into an epidemic. I know caterpillars aren’t the same as diseases. There’s an entire ecology affecting their population. But maybe just some tiny change, in some coming year, would be enough to tip caterpillar leaf consumption from large areas of leaf cover to all the leaf cover. This year, a dry winter was apparently enough to inhibit the growth of a fungus that balances the caterpillar population.

“Will the leaves grow back?” I asked my uncle, a gardener and former biology teacher, and therefore An Authority on the Subject.

They would, he said, but it didn’t shake the unique sense of unease that comes from walking under winter branches on a 90 degree day.

We’re in the final days of the Caterpocalypse. Sometimes, I drive through the bare areas and I see the spring leaves starting to pop in. It’s not as disorienting as bare branches, though it is definitely strange, and I assume there will be other consequences of this.

There are a lot of moths out.


*The main thing that inspired me to write this post was the fact that I hadn’t seen any news articles use the term “caterpocalypse,” which seemed like kind of a waste. It’s much less of a stretch than “snowmageddon” was, though it could look as though it’s referring to a tragedy involving a catered event.

Flufforaptors: on having baby chickens

Baby chickens turned out to be fascinating, and I didn’t expect that.

Baby chickens in a box

Classic milling-around-before-we-do-something-insane baby chicken behavior.

Despite being on board with keeping chickens as part of a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle, I’ve always kind of viewed chickens as fairly dull farm animals.  To be fair, I had spent very little time around flesh-and-blood chickens. That just changed. My partner and I have had baby chickens for nearly a week. We’ve spent much of this time suffering from something called Chicken Hypnosis, because that’s what we named it. Chicken hypnosis occurs when you try to do a thing, but are unable to because you walk by the chicken box and end up staring at their antics for twenty minutes.

After five days of Acute Recurrent Chicken Hypnosis, we’ve learned a few things about baby chickens.

Baby chickens are baby dinosaurs.

The idea that chickens are descended from dinosaurs is something I’ve heard people talk about a lot the last few years. Within a few hours of having chickens and watching how they move and function, my partner and I agreed. They are totally dinosaurs. He nicknamed them Fluffosauruses, because they are indeed adorable, fluffy, vicious little monsters. I like Flufforaptors, because they do kind of move like velociraptors.

Of course, this is all kind of dubious. We can watch the chickens and say that they move how dinosaurs move, but our idea of how dinosaurs move comes from Jurassic Park and various documentaries. And for all I know, they based their ideas on how dinosaurs move on the movements of living birds.

Baby chickens are fast.

Back to that velociraptor comparison. For some reason, I imagined that baby chicks would bounce around like fluffy little anime monsters. Maybe I didn’t actually know what chickens were before we got them. I didn’t even realize that I’d imagined them moving this way until I saw them dashing across their living area, tearing up the mulch behind them with their little talons. Once their wings started coming in, they began to use them for extra bursts of speed. Which is so cool to watch.

Baby chickens do not give a shit that you named them.

Or at least that you named the three of them you can tell apart from the others. Maybe when they’re older, they’ll learn what their names are. Human babies take awhile to learn their names, after all. But I also think that chickens just don’t give a shit. You named us Suntop, Redbeak, and Chickotay*? That’s beneath us. We’re the scions of dinosaurkind, and we’d basically eat you if you weren’t three hundred times our size. Or something. We’re chickens. Counting isn’t our forte.

Baby chickens are a mosh pit.

The chickens sleep in a clump, something I’m told they’ll do until they’re older and learn to roost. At various times during the day, they nestle into clump formation and take what I can only assume are power naps. Other times, they’ll bundle together and just kind of mill around. Then one of them will jump into the group and disrupt the whole thing, and basically, it turns into a mosh pit.

awful baby chick illustration

It also does my vector graphics skills no justice. I want those five minutes of my life back.

Finally, this picture does baby chickens no justice.

They may have been little balls of golden fluff for the first couple days, but they still had cold reptile eyes and pointy little talons. Like many of my favorite creatures, both real and fictional, they are both cute and vicious. Chickens in a yard tend to eat bugs. At two days old, they ate** a bunch of ants I kidnapped for them from the garden. Any sort of cartoony illustration of Easter chicks is really just a caricature. Especially if there’s a bow involved.


*Speaking of Star Trek Voyager, chickens can live longer than Ocampa.
**Or at least brutally murdered.

Snowfall

Snowfall mutes the world. It dulls the machinescape that is modern life, even in a small town. It makes familiar places foreign while softening rough edges and concealing the ugly and the industrial.

Walking through the snow is at once a return home, and a journey to a new frontier. Blanketed in austere sameness, old favorite trails become the haunts of frigid spirits, repetitive mazes where it could be all too easy to become lost. In the loneliness of snowfall, you can say words aloud that you never have before, and the wind carries them between towering pines, and they are lost.

Snow-covered New England Village

Quaint snow-covered villages are a New England specialty, and also its chief export commodity. If you buy yours from elsewhere, expect the same plastic seams as a bootleg Ninja Turtle.

When the snow falls, I am like a spy in a foreign country. Everyone cries out against the tyranny of snow—it makes us shovel, it makes us cold, we must clear our cars, we hate it, we hate it—but I am at home under the rule of snow. When the foreigners around me decry the snow, call for its execution under the rays of the spring sun, I halfheartedly raise a fist. “Grrr… snow. Yeah, down with snow. Or something. I guess.”
Unless I’m in the mood for a conversation. Unless I have the energy for a conversation.

* * *

Would you like to join a secret club? There aren’t many of us. No matter the differences in age or opinions or any trait you can think of, we are bonded by a love of the cold. There is an instant kinship between those of us who come alive when the world is frozen; when everyone else complains about roads and gloomy skies, the two people who say, “I like the cold,” and “same here,” know that they are kindred spirits. And they can laugh about how people are always telling them to put a jacket on.

* * *

Frozen didn’t convey the same sense of wintery-ness that I felt reading The Snow Queen as a kid. But it was a good piece of pro-snow propaganda, and I liked the parts where no one wore jackets when they probably should have. I got through one July reading A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin and fervently telling myself, “Winter is coming. Winter is coming. Winter is coming.” And then it kind of didn’t.

* * *

Anyway, it’s in the mid to high seventies outside now, and that’s about all I can take.

Painting the way

This gallery contains 3 photos.

Even though I enjoy exploring the woods beyond the beaten, dog shit-lined path, I like trail markers. Maybe it’s simply the sight of a colorful splotch of paint on rough tree bark. Maybe it’s the secret code aspect of trail sign, bits of twigs arranged in symbols and arrows, miniature rock cairns reassuring you that “this is the way.” Maybe it’s because I’ve been a hiker my whole life.  I can remember all the way back to when I was three years old, running through the woods, ahead of the … Continue reading

The camera ate my color

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Perception and memory interest me. I took the first photo at the community garden where my partner has a plot, and it looks much duller than I remembered. This became even more obvious when I sliced off the top to use for my website’s header. Part of the blame for that falls to my digital camera, which does poorly with low light and action, and is also skittish around children and wolves. Part of it has to do with my own perception. How can a flat picture on a screen … Continue reading