I’m Being Bugged!

Why is this bugging me?

Maybe I am wrong on this but maybe I am not. Apples have always gotten my attention and I don’t think it is just the Johnny Appleseed story.  I learned from Michael Pollan that in the past apples were of great value not to just up and eat but rather to gather, hopefully the sweetest ones a person could find, and then ferment the juice. They were after apple wine and if clever, once fermented to completion, they would allow it to freeze. The accumulated ice was tossed and the remaining liquid was the beloved apple jack, a liquor of higher alcohol concentration. Whoopee!

We all know that apples are and always have been subjected to the onslaught of insects, who like humans, loved the sweetness and thus punched holes in every apple found. The bugs, knowing them, probably even ate the ones slightly fermented for extra fun.

As a result of this competition with mankind, we very clever humans, made poisons to eliminate the bugs, and we were real good at it. However, there are yahoos like me who, while having been once employed to kill insects, prefer to not eat sprayed fruit. This invariably meant we had to cut away the enemy while making apple sauce, more work but no poisons.

Well, it would seem we have had a change in events because now the Wolf River apples on the kid’s tree next door are, all by themselves, bug free. They are flawless, round, robust and delicious and not a hole to be found other than that one where some enterprising squirrel thought he, probably a she, would have that one big bite. Confounding situation, I thought. Last year there were a few holes, this year none.

Interestingly, the apples I gather from a secret spot, the fruit with the red meat and ample sugar just right for sauce of the highest grade, are also bug free, I mean bug free. Even the ones laying on the ground are unviolated after a week of relaxation. What?

It is absolutely staggering after all these years, nature has found a way to poison out the insects so we can have this wonderful fruit just for the taking. Think of the money saved, not to mention the kitchen time cutting away those ugly little worms.

As I processed the apple sauce, yes, the beautiful pink applesauce with just the right sugar content, there was a distant murmuring in my head. “Was this really a good thing?” Are there other implications to this profound lack of apple-eating larva?

I have also noticed the robins are now using the bird feeder and appear to be eating suet. To top it off we have had three, and I say three, pileated woodpeckers on the feeder at one time—and that is right here in town. In the past the only pileateds seen, those pterodactyls, were skirting stealthfully around in dark forest. What is with these birds—robins on a feeder!

That suet is the closest thing to a worm those insect eaters can find, that is my guess. Just this year I saw grosbeaks eating potato bugs and don’t remember seeing that before. Potato bugs? The ones feeding on the leaves of a nightshade. While I have personally not eaten a potato bug, the very sight of them tells me this is not top fare, but maybe, like a turnip, it’s famine food.

It doesn’t take an entomologist to conclude that these, and other noticeable insect disappearances are becoming rather profound. I could, rather quietly, even mention the absence of mosquitos in my back yard. Oh, I will get push back on that statement but—-.

On the other hand there are other observations that, while delightful and intriguing, also got my attention. This year I, and a number of rural friends, saw giant swallowtails, not the fairly common tiger swallow tails but the darker, more dynamic giants. These beauties, in my book are rare and I was beside myself trying to photograph these majestic visitors. Turns out they favor the citrus family and are found mostly in the south but with the climate changing, they are now being see cruising zinnias, and eating prickly ash.

We are all aware that the count on monarchs has plummeted and as a result I find myself dodging them while driving, and speaking of driving, I can’t remember the last time I had to clean bug splat off my windshield.

Only a couple of years ago the swarm of delicate mayflies that followed the canoe ride left us breathless. This year we were quietly alone out there. No insect companions. But I did note leaf minors on the velvet leaf, and the pasture thistle I let grow in the garden did attract numerus insects including the radiant tiger swallowtails. I didn’t miss the June bugs bouncing off my head as we sat by the evening fire, or did I?

Remember how the swallows used to dive and swoop around intersections picking the bugs off the paused vehicles, hundreds of them. I must say, this is all bugging me. Something is up!


Like every yahoo around, I have been noticing that there are some changes taking place out there in our natural world. The most obvious being the climate, but, of course, there are plenty of other disruptions that are new to me in my now almost eighth decade. Clearly every little or not so little blip that occurs in the normal scheme of things causes another proverbial head-on collision for humanity.

All over the world there are water shortages, and that includes in our own southwest, while some other river basin is flooding with a once-in-a-thousand year event. To top that off, some areas are being toasted with temperatures in excess of 125 Fahrenheit. These events are enough to make anybody take pause—even for an individual like me who appears to be full of pauses.

As a biologist with a hankering for insects, it is not hard to notice that nighttime streetlights are no longer surrounded by swarms of confused bugs, like we used to see as kids. I haven’t even cleaned my windshield all summer where not long ago it was a daily job to remove bug splat from our windshield. On and on, we hear of habitat loss (how many Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited pleas can I possible get?) along with diminishing biodiversity reports.

To top it off, there are groups of folks almost intuitively realizing these same issues, and go bonkers trying to blame somebody else or some other group for all of these disruptive changes. They are fighting mad and in some cases latching on to authoritarian politicians who claims they have all the answers (they don’t) which on occasions means getting rid of the science that made us who we are, or in some extreme cases, loading weapons of war. It just becoming a mess.

During the heat, it’s harder to go outside, so I did a little research and found a word that possibly represents an idea that might prevent me from adding to the many issues banging relentlessly at us. The word most commonly found, and the one Nate Hagans from the University of Minnesota uses is ‘simplification’. By this he means, I need to just take it down a notch and not consume so many things because, as he points out, all the ‘stuff’ I use from nature is finite and the more of it that’s used, the less is left for future generations, AND many bits of consumption are becoming disruptive to the natural world.

I kicked it around and had a hard time envisioning something different than what we have been doing for so long. It seems I, and maybe many of us humans, might want to look at a new form of development, not necessarily associated with material growth.

Having recently been in Europe (I know, burning jet fuel), it was very visible there to notice a number of glaring differences in their lifestyles, and this is a life style that I was informed consumed one half the amount of energy and materials per-capita we do. They don’t have a lot of ‘stuff’ but rather have events and social outings where folks get together and just hang while sipping wine and nibbling cheese.  One glorious evening we WALKED to a sixteenth century cathedral to get drenched in a wondrous choral performance.

In Ireland we did walks-about and marveled at the scenery, the colorful people, maybe the fishing fleets along with some legendary dolphin who fancied entertaining tourists, and then in the evening drifting to a pub to play music and tip a beer.  Life was slower there for the old men sitting under a street side stoop, gesturing wildly and telling stories about the little people.

Going be tough I suppose, but I thought I would start by not driving 200 miles to go fishing, maybe trying to ride my bike to the bakery, attending the children’s musical tonight (where I exhausted my smile muscles), and admittedly talking to the rutabagas in the garden. Still, it is not hard to notice how so many of us have consumed so much that all of the mentioned problems are being caused by too many of us using too much stuff. So, if some local were to be seen around town being real simple, let it be known I have taken notice of the growing situations and what you are seeing is a legitimate effort at simplification—and it ain’t easy. Talking to rutabagas should no longer be seen as antisocial or a sign of mental collapse.