Tuesday, April 03, 2007

While There's Still Time...

A few folk have asked me about the title of this blog. It has nothing to do with the old poison termed hemlock, but rather refers to my favorite trees:

The Eastern and Carolina hemlock.

Go see them while you can.

In several sections of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are stands of hemlock trees that were never cut when lumber companies were hacking their ways through our vast tracts of forest. These trees, while not on the order of California’s redwoods, are nonetheless impressive. To stand amidst them and look up at those evergreen branches, their trunks rising great all around, the ground carpeted in the redred rust of needles shed and coppering on the forest floor... Well, you have to go see it, I guess, to understand the experience. Words are not sufficient.

But if you want to see them, you’d better hurry.

A few decades ago, someone bringing Asian hemlocks to the area around Washington DC introduced a pest called the Hemlock wooly adelgid. A bug. Native to the Old World, this pernicious little whore is of a species that has no males. Like arthropod versions of the Tribble, they’re all female and all born with the ability to eat like a black hole and lay jillions of eggs that hatch into versions of their bitch mommas. America’s hemlocks have no resistance to them, and there is no native beetle to prey on the tiny bitches. So they have had their way with the hemlock forests of America’s east coast. The Park Service is doing what it can to stem the infestations, but it looks as if the hemlock is going to become as extinct as the American chestnut.

So. If you want to see these amazing stands of trees, then you’ll have to visit the Smokies within the next few years. After that, the trunks will still be standing, but they’ll be dead. I’ve asked folk who know where the most impressive stands are located in the park and I’ve been making an effort to see them over the past few years. Biologists are predicting the complete elimination of both the Eastern hemlock and the Carolina hemlock from our forests. If you’ve never seen a hemlock tree, you might not know how beautiful they are. They’re my favorite trees when I’m hiking and backpacking. Instantly recognizable. Always green, branches sheltering, growing very tall. I’ve seen hemlocks over 150 feet tall.

All around us, the Earth is telling us how sick it is. All around us. Our atmosphere is in turmoil, but those who control us claim otherwise. Our forests are sickening, but those who hold domain over them want to cut them down. Our wildlife is vanishing, but those who can help will not allow us to protect that life. The land itself is poisoned, but those who pull the strings won’t let us cleanse that land.

Do yourselves a favor and visit the hemlock forests of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Southeast before the only thing remaining of them are dead, drying husks that once were trees.

No comments: