Sympathy for the Japanese Beetle
Where is the Elm?
In the 2nd grade, I made a science project: a collection of fall foliage, pasted (not glued) to white construction paper, the name of each tree under the leaf of it. No descriptions, name and product as assigned, returned with the same affection.
I remember finding it later, leaves mostly dust falling out of the bottom of the folder, paper and name, still the paste and retained dust. A few years ago, I returned to my hometown and saw those same trees, many, realizing how sleepy they made the neighborhood look, more overgrown even then they were, simply age shadowing.
When I was about 10 or so, I remember Dutch Elm disease. Trees dying, all elm. Light company trucks with cherry-pickers, men with chainsaws (they sounded like dirt bikes, a dream then.) The neighborhood boys and I would watch for hours, hearing the crack as a branch was cut to its limit and tore itself away,and we’d yell “Timber!” Which, of course, it wasn’t- it went to the chipper (fantastic!) and became confetti, most of which blew into the hopper, but not all. Some lingered in the air, atomized (to us then, an atom was tiny yet somehow still visible, or at least as small an particle as air and light would support [in current thought].) Some confetti just fell out on the street; a missed shot.
Elm dust, like the leaves from my science project.
Dutch elm disease, as I understand it, was not really a disease but in infestation of Japanese beetles which ate the leaves and then burrowed into the trunk and branches. The must have loved the taste of them, needed what only elms could give them; they snubbed other trees entirely. I remember seeing them upon the trees. They made them literally crawl with life, which, as a boy, was amazing. I didn’t consider trees as really alive, they grew so slowly as to be unnoticeable, so I was happy to see them move with visible change. Change not being in their best interests, ultimately, but, again, as a boy, not caring.
And then they were gone and we went back to playing baseball all day and despite all that playing, never could hit very well but good in the field and fast on the bases when I got there. These things are important. I still remember them more often.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a Japanese beetle either. They seem to have waned along with the object of their affection, the ironic nature of love destroying the lover and the loved, but weren’t they so alive together in that brief moment when elms moved from the continuous to the discrete (eternal to the temporal as I am using the terms.) The continuity of love remains but has moved on to new ironies.
I have been told by my beta readers to flag you at this point; Go back and reread the last two sentences or this will be just a story about trees, which it is also. Since I’ve broken continuity anyway, the disclaimer: In no way is this to be construed as the Dutch being victims of the Japanese. No racist intent of any kind should be inferred. Those are only names and I didn’t assign them either.
Forty-some years and 3500 miles from that, I’m riding my mountain bike through the new neighborhood and I see an elm. Not a native, nor am I, to the desert; brought here intentionally, and survived, somehow, though I must say skinny and leaves burned transparent by the sun, but alive. I’m guessing it’s too dry for the beetles.
In the early Seventies, I remember a book called “Future Shock” by Alvin Toffler (if I butchered your name, I apologise, I’m not so much for the research.) The gist of it being, extrapolating the population growth, consumption of resources, degradation of the environment, etc, what the world might look like. I hear it wasn’t pretty but I didn’t actually read the book (again, not so much for the research, not really.) And again, mostly by rumor, I know of Malthus who was dismissed by fixed nitrogen being invented/introduced to farming, creating a much greater efficiency in agriculture, forestalling the famines Malthus predicted and the “correction” of population. Science has a tendency to make scientists look like heartless bastards, sometimes. Another irony of love, I suppose.
So what, my love, has this got to do with you, about whom my every thought revolves? Consciously or subconsciously it has to lead back.
I move you from the continuous to the discrete, back and forth, always wanting more in each balance.
While, again, today, riding my bike, I started to ponder pine trees. The oldest of trees; the efficiency of their needles able to withstand such extremes in climate and sunlight. So why are there any other forms of trees?
I think it’s a matter of proliferation. Other trees are successful by offering fruit and nuts for animals who spread their seeds far beyond the reach of the gravity driven process of fallen pine cones.
Success by co-operation, by integration and use of their environment, an almost conscious knowledge that more is made available to them than process, that life will help them succeed if they adapt to it. They use their environment and in turn make it better,more diverse. They allow themselves to be more of the process by being more than process, by interaction and acknowledgement of the availability of support systems that are symbiotic.
But if those support systems should fail, pines will remain and dominate until those systems return to the discrete. Enough about pines.
Should you ever wish to see one, I know of a Elm.