Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Good Guys Lost

Some time back I gave up. Not on life, or living, or loving, or seeking out the good things that are worth experiencing.
I rushed to see the virgin groves.
But I gave up on the idea of justice. To sum it up briefly, what I realized is that the bad guys won and that the bad guys will always win, and that in the long run the situation is not good and is not going to end well for any of us--not even for the bad guys.

Since I was a very young child I have had  a deep and abiding love for Mother Nature. From the very first I have gone out of my way to protect and admire the wild things and the worlds in which they live. Give me a forest and I am happy. Let me walk along a stream and I can be content. When I see a hawk or a fox I can go on a few more days.

But since I've been a child I have seen what humans have done to the Earth and what they are going to continue to do. There will come a point where the planet's ecosystems will collectively be unable to take one more shot to the chest and they will shut down. And we will shut down with them. And if that wasn't tragedy enough, the worst of it is that we will have taken so much down with us, and will have seen so many of our wild companions preceding us through that black hole of Oblivion.

Not enough of us listen. No one acts. All that happens is that we make concessions to those who
From 2005, this old hemlock is dead, now.
do the most damage and the world continues to die. Since I've been a kid I've heard the good guys warning what would happen if we continued down the path we are on.

The elephants would all be destroyed. Yes, they were right.

The oceans will begin to die off. This was true.

The atmosphere will heat up and the ice caps and glaciers will melt. We watched it happen.

There will be no room left for things like tigers and lions, wolves and grizzlies. This is occurring as the clock ticks along.

Around 2003 I began to read articles concerning the hemlock trees that have lived for millions of years here on the eastern half of the continent. They were being killed off by an invasive insect that was colonizing, unopposed, the groves of Carolina and Eastern hemlock trees; they were sucking the needles dry and killing the trees one by one until the hemlock groves were being left as standing corpses. After making certain that the stories were true and that the situation was dire, I did the only thing that I could do:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2004: the hemlocks in this grove are ALL dead today.

I set about visiting the virgin hemlock groves that were in the Parks and wild places throughout my native south. I went to see these grand, old trees standing like cathedrals on our mountain slopes. It's not for nothing that they were called "the redwoods of the East". By 2005 I had visited dozens of such groves. And now?

Now those groves are all gone. Pale, dead trunks of dying trees are what remains. These scenes have been repeated up and down the spine of the Appalachians and will continue to be repeated until there is nothing left, until all of the hemlock groves are gone. The culprit: tiny, tiny aphids who cling to the hemlock needles and drain out the sap and leave the tree unable to conduct photosynthesis. These mindless little reproducing assholes just go on laying eggs and eating the needles until the tree dies. Then they (or their progeny) go on to the next tree and the next and the next until there are none left.

That's what's going to happen to Mother Earth. We are going to move on and on, mindlessly reproducing, mindlessly eating and consuming until She can no longer support us.

It's going to happen. The day is coming.

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

My suggestion to those of you who love and appreciate the wild places and the things that live within them is to seek them out and witness them. Experience these rare bits of land and sea while they are still there and are a shadow of what its like for them to thrive. Because in a few short years or decades I assure you that they will all be gone. They will be dead and rotting in the wind just like those hemlock groves I hurried to see before it was too late.

Go. Now. Make haste.


Mark said...

Good post James. I got chill down my spine when you compared humans to the woolly adelgid. You might be right about that one. It would be neat to study what happens to the parasite once they finish off the last of the hemlocks. Probably some lessons for us in there.

James Robert Smith said...

Well, they die off when they've finished eating the last hemlock tree. In the groves where they've killed all of the hemlocks, there are no hemlock wooly adelgids. They are species specific. The hemlock trees are their planet Earth. When it's's over.

MarkGelbart said...

Chinese hemlocks are resistant to the Asian wooly adelgid.

Horticulturalists have successfully hybridized eastern hemlocks with Chinese hemlocks, and the hybrids are resistant to the insect.

A century from now, Appalachian forests will have hybrid hemlocks in place of eastern.

It's the only hope.

James Robert Smith said...

The asian hemlocks aren't so much immune to the hwa as that there are predators established in the ecosystem there to take them down a notch. They still can infest an Asian hemlock, but the predator beetles that are established and native to Asia do a good job of paring back the infestations.

They have tried introducing the hwa-specific predator beetles here in the South, but they don't last very long. They're just no acclimate to North America and introducing them has so far proven to be a lost cause.

It won't matter. We're not going to be around long enough to whine about it.