The Gravitationist

Like evolution, gravity is only a theory,
but I feel the truth of both in my bones.

07 January 2007

Pining for Poison

The burn pile on the eastern meadow achieves pep-rally proportions again. When last I put the torch to it in 2003, the pile comprised mostly the remains of an 80-foot sycamore that was strangled, then toppled, by wild grapevines. This time, the burn pile is mostly pine.

Last summer's drought was a killer. Pines suffered painfully; oaks lost big branches. Pine bark beetles are everywhere, now that lindane is off the market as a plant treatment. The compound was an effective killer of beetle larvae, but it created two major problems: (1) Lindane production brews some terrible wastes, and irresponsible manufacturers create poisonous swamps with reckless disposal schemes; (2) lindane is probably a human carcinogen.

The stuff now is banned in more than 50 countries, though not in Europe. (Oddly, it is still legal in the USA in a shampoo treatment for head lice, sold in 1% solution in 2-ounce bottles for use on children.)

Our bark beetles have feasted undisturbed since I applied the last of my lindane supply three years ago this month. The experts tell me no legal and safe compound will control the beetles now, and all of our pines will eventually fall victim. As we have dozens of beautiful pines shading our house, lawn, lanes and picturesque coves around our pond, this is unsettling to contemplate.

The summer brought 10 weeks in July, August and September without any rainfall on our little acreage. All around us, often less than a mile away, thunderstorms would pass across neighbors' hay fields, granting succor and relief from triple-digit heat. But not on our grounds, where pines in close combat with the relentless beetles could not bear the added stress of drought.

For now, nothing can be done but cut the dead and dying wood, take it to an isolated area and burn it. So the pile grows. Our death toll stands at nine pines, five of them quite large, in the 30- to 70-foot range.

Also lost this year were two pecans and a beautiful hawthorn. The latter fell not to drought, but to my own neglectful failure to prune its three spreading main branches, which collapsed of their own weight on a night of blustery winds.

The pecans and the hawthorn, which gave us so much pleasure in life, have been split into firewood. The billets lie seasoning under tarps in a sheltered corner, awaiting another winter and another chance to serve.