PNS sounds a lot like a “Pain in the Ass”

I recently wrote about “What It’s Like to Live In a Dying Forest.”

So — update from the forest! I’m still battling the tiny green beasties! They’re still unhatched but not for much longer. Soon they’ll turn into their crusty brown pinyon needle sap-sucking selves. Until then there’s a window to prolong some trees lives by destroying eggs. After they hatched the “solution” becomes to spray the trees with poisons. I’d rather not, but I’m ready for that too. Falling back on “safer” things like neem oil and mineral oil and diatomaceous earth.

I’ve been spending a lot of time hunched under these wild trees, my hat brim pushed down into my eyes and my back getting bitten to bits by no-seeums. Lots of time to ponder and insert myself into these insect rhythms and quiet moments in the woods. Antelope are out. I’ve put out water for the birds (the nearest springs are 4 miles away) and am hearing more of them. Or maybe I want to hear more of them. Because even out my window as I write I see a gnatcatcher hopping up a tree and even into the needles pecking at something. There are sparrows and juncos and flycatchers and sparrows — surprising diversity now that I’m very open to seeing it, wanting it very badly. I hope they’re not eating the ants, because the ants will eat the aphids. I proved that yesterday by leaving some eggs out for them. NOM. But I’m relieved to see the bird hopping into the needles, because me, after having needles in my eyes so many times, cannot imagine flying into a bough of them. What else besides myself predates these aphids? Is there a chance Nature could cut them down? Is the animal or weather pattern responsible for cutting them down… extinct? Or was it maybe just gone for a season. All I know is there is certainly plenty of food on the way for these birds. In the coming weeks they will be able to eat until they’re sick, and there will still be more.

PNS stands for Pinyon Needle Scale.

I ponder their numbers. The article linked above uses the term “zillions.” Daunting, compared to the billions I was imagining. The math is staggering, the exponentiation and time frame of it just… defeating. Each female lays 30-50 eggs and they have about 1-3 life cycles a year. If I leave one egg alive on a tree, and it survives, by the end of the year there will be 40, and next Spring there will be 1600. Next Fall: 64,000 — from that one egg. Nevermind that I’m finding what seems like billions of them. Nevermind if it’s zillions. I might as well give up.

This is how the pines in our neighborhood just took up and died. Suddenly sucked to death. Seeing a die-off happen quickly like this is enough to make one realize how delicate a system is. Take one piece away or tweak it, and other bits will falter. Last night I read about how a programmer hurt himself while testing code he had written which removes soundless moments from .WAV files. One wrong character in the code and he nearly went deaf. I can’t say how many times I have gotten hung up on code where one character was wrong or missing, or one incorrect character inserted. In a sea of thousands of lines of code, finding that one tiny mistake is difficult to say the least. Maddening, then very humbling.

Either we are now in a sea of mistakes such that it is difficult to see what is correct in the world, or Nature is such an elegant system that fail-safes have protected us from the deafening impacts of weather change, soil disruption, air and water pollution, and species loss for a long time. I see the loss of whatever destroyed the PNS (long hard winters with decent Spring frosts) as a glitch in the system. I’m having a hard time pinpointing the next glitch up in what must be a cascade of glitches, but I suspect it’s nothing I can fix myself. I can; however, burn PNS eggs by the 5-gallon bucket-full, and hope for a better winter.