Keep Your Hat On, I’ll End Up Miles From Here

“Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”
Kurt Vonnegut

I’m on a Kurt Vonnegut roll. I recently read If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?, a compilation of his graduation speeches. As I said in my last post, Kurt Vonnegut is living proof you don’t have to be alive to be living.

There’s just something about him. I would have liked to have taken a writing class from him. I imagine he would say this about writing: “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.” He actually did say that. I just don’t know for sure if it was about writing.

I attended Fourth Friday last Friday, the local venue for writers to listen and read. The featured writer was Holly Hughes who read from her book of poetry, Sailing with Ravens. It was important, she said, that instead of diving in randomly to read poems in her book, that you start at the beginning and continue on.

From the back of her book:

“Gillnetter, mariner, and naturalist Holly Hughes has experienced first-hand the practical and philosophical consequences of navigating difficult waters. . . . In this exquisite collection of poems Hughes deftly navigates the ‘wavering, certain path’ of a woman’s heart, finding that sometimes the best directions to follow are those that come from the natural forces in our lives. . . .”

I’ve been on the ocean—I spent 75 days on a Dutch freighter traveling from Saudi Arabia to Long Beach, California. We went days without seeing either land or another ship. Once, we patiently watched for what in my memory seems like hours for a ship to transform from being a dot on the horizon to a sister ship gliding by alongside us, bow to stern, and then sail away to become a dot on the horizon again.

And then we were alone on the vast expanse of water with the occasional school of dolphins that appeared.

The ship I was on raised three stories off the surface. I can only imagine what it would be like to be on the 33-foot fishing boat Holly Hughes set sail in—what it was like to be at sea with that much uncertainty surrounding you.

It occurred to me as I listened to her that she did what writers do—she saw the poetry in the prosaic. I think at the heart of being a writer is an understanding that we “ . . . never had to leave home to be writers, because there are people there just as smart and just as dumb, just as kind and just as mean, as anywhere else in the world.” Kurt said that, too.

I’m having a serious Kurt crush these days.

Somehow that gives me permission to leap into this next thing I’m going to write about: tent caterpillars in my trees.

They are voracious little creatures, eating anything leafy. Not the evergreens—the tasty leafy things like the leaves on the apple and cherry and pear trees.

Side thought: With all due respect, they sound very much like us humans who are sort of kind of’ ravaging the planet—not by eating the leafy things but by changing the climate with our behavior and modifying the genetics of plants and planting plants that have been pre-treated with systemic pesticides that kill bees.

But, back to the tent caterpillars.

I am faced with a decision . . . do I get rid of them, or just let them cycle through. There is a non-poisonous solution: Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). It’s made from dead ground up caterpillars and introduces a bacteria that they eat and then get sick and die before they become moths and lay eggs. Or maybe they lay eggs and then become moths, I’m not entirely clear on that concept. But they die before they become moths.

The point is that by introducing Bt into their world, I interrupt their transformation. I keep them from learning what it means to take flight.

Which gives me pause.

Note: Literally, it gave me pause. I removed my hands from the keyboard and put them in the pockets of my fleece vest, wondering where I’m going with this. Hold on for the play button.

I’m back. I stepped outside to the balcony. Birds were singing and in the background I could hear Tom’s music playing on the iPod inside my writing Shed. They didn’t compete (the birds and Tom’s music). They complemented each other. Here’s what I saw.

So here’s what I think. I will spray the Bt. It doesn’t poison other insects (maybe mosquitoes, I’ll research that and I’m okay with that because of the equine virus thing, though I suspect that mama equine viruses love their equine virus children as much as we love our children). I think that introducing the bacteria will give the trees a fighting chance.

Now, will it kill all the tent butterflies? Probably not. I suspect there will be some who will survive the bacteria. Which could mean that they will create a new generation of tent caterpillars that adapt to the bacteria. That is the cycle, I think.

Maybe I’m overthinking this.

Where was I?

Oh, right the transformation-interruptus thing.

So, here’s where I am with that: what I will be doing is introducing living things that interact with each other into the environment. Apparently there is a three-year cycle of tent caterpillars getting overly enthusiastic about reproduction. This is the third year of that cycle, or maybe the second, depending on who you talk to.

I think what I’m doing is giving my trees a fighting chance of staying clothed and producing fruit. I’m okay with that and I apologize to the moms and dads of the caterpillars whose offspring won’t get a chance to take flight. I think they might have had a good life anyway. They certainly are beautiful creatures.

And, for what it’s worth, I suspect that bacteria are hard at work thinning out the human race.

That’s the cycle of things. Or, as Kurt would say, “And so it goes . . .”