Story 10. From Grim Reaping: Boogy Buggy
“My, I am going to have a lot of children this year! It has been so mild that I feel like I can live forever. Honey, I see a nice ripe, old pine. Let’s dance on its bark some, then Bealzabug, I can lay a lot of eggs!”, said Beetlejuicy. The two pine beetles were in a great mood because they survived a very mild winter in early 2029. The beetles were mating early in the summer of that year in what was left of pine forests in the Colorado Rockies. Skates just didn’t have the power to bring temperatures down to the point that most of the beetles would have been killed across the Rockies due to carbon pollution by the late 2020’s. After doing their little dance, the beetles spread blue stain fungus into the sapwood of their selected host tree. The fungus prevents the tree from repelling and killing the attacking beetles, and blocks water and nutrient transport within the tree. A few weeks after Beetlejuicy and Bealzabug did their dance, larval hatched from the eggs that Beatlejuicy had laid. Sap was the name of the tall, old ponderosa pine that the beetles used as their host dance floor.
Sap saw the rise of the sun coming over the Rocky Mountains as he had over and over for many years, except the mountain peaks were not snowcapped. When Sap was much younger he could remember that even during the early summer the tops of the mountains from his perch were white. Not anymore. His friends did sport snow on their needles from time to time the last few years, but the white stuff rarely lasted more than a few days. Now most of Sap’s friends were gone. Sap could see their hulking, dead wood and grey likeness sticking out of the ground, but there was no life. Sap was now a lonely tree. On this bright morning Sap felt ill. Something was wrong. Sap felt thirsty even though plenty of rain had fallen earlier during the spring. Saps bark felt itchy as if something were crawling around in his hide. Sap was alarmed to see resin oozing from his bark coagulating in popcorn-shaped masses that the humans had dubbed “pitch tubes” where the beetles had entered. All summer Sap felt worse and worse. Sap’s symptoms got better, however, as autumn snows began to fall. As had happened so many years before, Sap was happy to be adorned from Snowy’s Flakes. Each Flake kissed Sap as they perched onto Sap’s boughs. The bad news for Sap was that temperatures never got below -20 during the winter season.
Poor Sap felt very bad going into the spring of 2030. “Oh my! My needles are turning red just like what happened with my friends!”, proclaimed Sap. Long before Sap’s needles had turned red, Beetlejucy’s and Bealzabug’s offspring had flown out of Sap’s poor hide to do yet another dance infecting more trees. Sap weakened and passed away during the summer, his needles turned brown and falling off. The summer was hot, and the air was crispy dry from British Columbia southward through the Rockies. Flame took advantage of the situation when a few weak members of the Clan of Storms sparked lighting without much rain in the West. Poor Sap’s dry bones along with the rest of his dead friends got engulfed in flames, which the poor humans could not put out. Like older men, the Rockies were balding, losing the last of their trees as the middle of the 21sr century rolled along. Thermo and his climate friends could only watch in horror. Grim reaping indeed.
In the real world, it was my district pleasure to take a sight-seeing trip through the Colorado Rockies with Bob Henson during September 2011. The views from the high mountain passes were spectacular. Bob and I took pictures of a very nice rainbow near Leadville. I was very saddened to see scores of dead ponderosa and lodgepole pines nestled among some green foliage in the Rockies.
The current outbreak of mountain pine beetles in western North America has decimated widespread areas in the Rockies. As in our story, the problem will only get worse in time as the warming, climate change problem continues. In Rocky Mountain National Park, which I visited, major infestation began in 1996. An annual assessment by Colorado’s forest service indicated that as many as 1.15 million acres were affected in 2008. By 2013 only 264,000 acres in Colorado were infested because the beetles had already killed most of the vulnerable trees in the park.