I take pleasure in where I live. In the everchanging hills and gentle mountainsides, the annual rhythms of Caretaker Farm, and the way even my own ornamental garden rises and falls. We've chosen to live in a place where takeout food is limited but natural beauty is abundant, and I am thankful for that every day.
Well, I try to be. Lately it's been something of a challenge. Parts of my town (and the two other towns nearest us) have been overrun by tent caterpillars this spring. A single tent caterpillar can be beautiful, furred and soft with an Oriental-rug-like pattern on its back. But once there are thousands of them, I lose access to their beauty pretty quick.
Worse, the caterpillars have devoured my landscape. This is where it gets personal: they've decimated my hillside, eating everything down to the barest hair-thin sticks. Glorious foliage trees several times taller than our house are bare now, along with our new lilac bushes, the wee blueberries we planted last year and nurtured through the winter, and pretty much everything else that ought to be green. It looks surreally like the earliest days of spring. (Here's a shot of a hillside in south Williamstown -- note how the foreground is green, but the ridgeline is bare.)
For days I've been telling myself this isn't such a big deal. They're not actually eating our house. They don't sting or bite. Eventually they will turn into moths and fly away. And everyone I've spoken to tells me there's a good chance that, once the plague is over, the trees will put out leaves again. Our glorious landscape will almost certainly recover from this, probably in a month or two. Even so, the infestation unsettles and saddens me. When the hills are denuded the world feels off-kilter.
Tonight I snapped a few pictures (here and here, not for the faint of of heart!) and took a broom to the door and front steps (I couldn't stand to see our mezuzah obscured). I sprayed the house (probably futilely) with something meant to drive the critters away. And then I took a long hot shower and settled in to davven the evening service, which settled me.
Now there's a thrush calling in the twilight gloaming. I adore the strange spiraling of a thrush call, which is like
nothing else in the world. It reminds me that all is not lost.
It's easy for me to take the spectacular natural beauty of our surroundings for granted -- and when something happens to mar that beauty, it's easy for me to feel cheated and depressed. In the days to come I hope I can allow this temporary plague to recede from the forefront of my consciousness. And once our woods come back (God willing!) I hope I will be even more mindful than usual of how fortunate I am to live where I do, surrounded by so many of the beauties of our world.