two thousand twenty
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Jagger Road is a small two-lane no-shoulder town road near my house that crosses the end of the swamp flats along Red Creek.  About halfway to the north end, the canopy of trees almost closes protectively creating the illusion of a curving tunnel with a narrow opening directly overhead.  On the west side a wooded area blocks out any possible view of the sunset while the steep bank on the east side, smothered with sumac, wild berry and currant bushes, and wildflowers, provides cover for adventurous deer that regularly play "chicken" with unsuspecting drivers about dusk. 

I was returning from a newspaper assignment recently when rounding a curve I spied a wild turkey hen as she popped out of the sumac and contemplated crossing the road.  She sauntered bravely onto the pavement.  I hit the brakes hard, slowing almost to a stop before she realized my truck was much bigger than she was and that she would probably wind up on the losing end if we tangled.  She suddenly launched her gangling body across the road in front of me and disappeared into a dense clump of trees laden with dozens of silken tents of Malacosoma americanum, more commonly called Eastern Tent Caterpillars.  As children, we called them Army Worms. 

I remember how the huge old Greening apple tree in our side lawn used to be host to dozens of silk tents in mid-August and often wondered how they could appear so quickly.  Every year Dad would make a long torch from a locust sapling wrapped in an oil-soaked rag and burn the "little buggers" as he referred to them, from the branches they had defoliated, seemingly overnight.  That battle went on for years ending in a draw when the tree was cut down and we worked it into firewood. 

Back to the other evening when the sight of those nearly transparent tents along Jagger Rd. prompted some research with the following results.  Supposedly the caterpillars are palatable only to cuckoos leaving man the only other enemy until they reach their adult moth state when other birds might find them tasty.  The females lay 200 - 300 eggs in the late summer that lie quiescent until the tree buds begin to open in the spring when the voracious larvae families construct tiny tents, usually on the east side of trees to take advantage of the early morning warmth from the sun.  They leave their protective tents to feed three times a day, preferring cherry, apple and crabapple leaves.  As they grow in size and defoliate their host tree branches, they add silk to expand their tents daily, which accounts for their seemingly sudden appearance.  Late in August they disperse, construct individual cocoons in which to pupate and emerge as adult moths about two weeks later.  Then the cycle begins again when they mate, the eggs are deposited and they die. 

Approaching the Lyon Road intersection, I noticed the puffy white cumulus clouds floating over the scene like inflated cauliflower heads resting on the drumlin ahead.  It would soon be dark and the harmonious songs of crickets, cicadas and tree frogs would once more fill the mid-summer night air in western Wayne County, New York.


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3 Comments to "Caterpillars and Cauliflower Clouds"

  1. Anonymous Said,

    Beth has such a unique and beautiful way of combining the earthly and the etheral. I've learned so much from her...especially how to take notice of the world around us. Kc

    Posted on Thu Aug 26, 12:29:00 PM EDT

  2. Videomark Said,

    It great to to hear that others take the time to watch the clouds roll by.

    May rainbows follow you?
    Wherever you walk, wherever you go
    Dance in the raindrops and grass with dew
    Grass stains jeans and mud between your toes

    Feel the sun on your face
    See the clouds shadows race
    Watch the hours fade into days
    Watch the years slip away

    Lie on you back and watch the clouds
    Stay until dark and wait for the stars
    Then walk on home by the moonlight path
    Hear the cicadas guide you back

    From the song "May Rainbows Follow You"
    (c) Mark De Cracker 5/11/10

    Posted on Thu Aug 26, 12:37:00 PM EDT

  3. Anonymous Said,

    Great Job Beth. Of course, Videomark had to get his version in there in his continuing effort to hog the limelight.

    Posted on Thu Aug 26, 01:33:00 PM EDT


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