Tuesday, June 5, 2012


And so begins the first road trip of the season – this curious season of late spring/ almost summer in northern Alberta in which you can have a heat wave or a snowstorm depending on the day. Endless possibilities. This particular drive looks to be about 3200 kilometres return. Peace River, AB to Brandon MB and back again. I am glad to have Joanna along as co-pilot. I am of the belief that driving across the Prairies is best done with a lead-foot, and that is usually not a problem for me, but lately I am finding myself driving like a farmer... one-handed, head-out-window, tractor-speed on the highway. Alas, I have now lived in Alberta for 11 years, and on an acreage for 6 years, and I do fancy myself a dandelion farmer, but these are not the reasons for the peculiar driving. The culprit? Caterpillars.  
Malacosoma disstria. Forest tent caterpillars. These prolific little swarmers are quickly devouring most everything green in the Peace River region. We knew they were coming... the advance guard was doing reconnaissance in my raspberry patch last summer. And forest swaths south of here were under attack. I am morbidly fascinated by these rapacious eaters. As I drive into town, heading north into the Peace River valley, I slow down to gaze up at the naked stands of trees... trees that were fully decked out with green leaves only a few days earlier. Sometimes I slow down to stare at the blackish road covered in squished up, dried up carcasses. Thankfully they are dead... I have heard stories of road closures because of slippery critter conditions. My husband shudders at the memory of riding his bike as a kid over caterpillar-covered roads... the smell & sound still fresh in his mind thirty-ish years later.
In town the first place to be decimated was Misery Mountain Ski Hill. It was a double-whammy for that area – mountain pine beetles ravaged the area a few years ago. Hundreds of infected trees were cut down,  levelling the landscape.The local campground – The Pines – went from a forest oasis to a wide-open gravel pit.  Now the deciduous trees that are left are stripped bare of leaves. I keep thinking of Joel... After the cutting locusts finished eating the crops, the swarming locusts took what was left! After them came the hopping locusts, and then the stripping locusts...” Joel 1:4 NLT
Plagues have been on my mind for a while. Many times last summer as I stood in the middle of my garden the phrase “of Biblical proportions” came to mind. At times the grasshoppers were so thick that with every step I took hundreds leaped to low flight and crashed into my legs and into each other. Sometimes I would run through the field just to see the parting of the insect-sea... They stripped the bean and potato leaves clean, but thankfully it was late in the season and most harvesting had been done. And if insects did eat up all the plants in my garden, I could still drive to the grocery store and buy a tomato. From Mexico. I try to imagine what it is would have been like a hundred years ago to experience a true plague. Or to live in a third world country today in a time of drought.  It is hard to conceive of the reality as I live in a land with plenty of food, clean water, government infrastructure. Water bombers. Insecticides. But in my mostly cozy little corner of God usually-green earth, I have a decided fascination for the oddities and extremes of creation.

The summer of 2011 was certainly one for the books in northern Alberta in terms of natural disasters (I prefer the term phenomenon – the events of nature are not in themselves disasters... but that is a discussion for another time.) As we tried to head southeast to my in-laws place on Baptiste Lake, we were alternately road-blocked by fire and flood. Our route takes us through Slave Lake – a town now infamous for losing a large portion of itself to a forest fire. One attributed to human cause, and spread by unusually high winds and dry conditions. Incredibly there was only one fatality related to the fire. After the clean-up was underway, and the media coverage of the relief effort and the subsequent visit of William & Kate died down, the much-needed rain came. And came. Lakes and rivers overflowed. The highway flooded. So did some of the gutted lots in town ready for construction. When it rains it pours...

And so I drive slowly... wondering if my forest will be entirely gone when I return in a week, watching the fireweed spring up below the stubble of charred spruce, looking for bird nests and caterpillar tents in the branches of the poplars, searching for the beetle-red needles of the pines, looking for dry creek beds and flooded farmers’ fields.
And I think of Joel. Begging his people to change. God will give you back what you lost! And so much more! And I pray. And I thank God for the wonder of His creation, and His mercy. And I smile. And I might just speed up.

 “That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  He is eager to relent and not punish. Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse...Surely the LORD has done great things! Don’t be afraid, my people. Be glad now and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things. Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field, for the wilderness pastures will soon be green. The trees will again be filled with fruit; fig trees and grapevines will be loaded down once more. Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem! Rejoice in the LORD your God! For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness. Once more the autumn rains will come, as well as the rains of spring. The threshing floors will again be piled high with grain, and the presses will overflow with new wine and olive oil. The LORD says, “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts. Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the LORD your God..”
Joel 2: 12-14, 20-26 NLT

1 comment:

  1. nice job, you write beautifully! As I do not have anything creative to post this week, I was thinking of a caterpillar post. I may be creative in lots of ways but not the way you can write!