The big news around Reverie is that our trees our dying at an alarming rate. The Western Pine beetle that has already killed more than 66 million trees in California has finally invaded us too. I thought we would be spared, at least somewhat, since up until about six weeks ago we only had a few trees that had been attacked and killed by the beetle. And while the drought hasn’t left us alone completely, for the most part we’ve had close-to-average rainfall since we moved up here three years ago, so I was hoping our trees were resilient enough to fight them off.
But even with reasonable rainfall the summers are becoming hotter, the winters warmer and shorter, and the infestation affecting pines throughout California is now just too intense and widespread. Scientists are saying this is the largest forest outbreak ever recorded – at least ten times the size of past eruptions. Some even predict that 90% of the pine trees in California will die by the time this is all over.
It is heartbreaking to live in the middle of this die-off happening in front of our eyes. There is a big Ponderosa pine directly in front of our dining room window that seemed perfectly healthy, and literally from one day to the next it went from green to completely dry and dead. I shudder to think about how much this will contribute to global warming with millions of trees dead and no longer removing carbon dioxide from the air. Some researchers are now looking at the possibility that the beetle is helping with natural selection in response to a changing climate, culling the trees that are not well-adapted to warmer temperatures and leaving the more resilient genetic strains standing to grow and repopulate for the new, hotter normal we will have (and pretty much already have). That’s an intriguing idea but unfortunately for us, the lifetime for this cycle might be longer than our own lifetimes.
Pacific Gas & Electric, our local utility, has contracted with a tree removal company to remove dead trees around power lines to try to avoid them starting forest fires. About a month ago someone surveyed our property to see how many trees needed to be removed and the number was 6. Yesterday, by the time they got to us, the number had climbed to 39! And those are just the trees next to the power line!
We do have quite a few oaks and other conifers that are not affected so far, so we won’t be completely treeless once the beetle dust settles. We will have much more open space and a more expansive view. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about this, so I just have to take it as a lesson in impermanence. Change is part of life and we will need to adapt and flow with it with as much grace and equanimity as possible. Nothing stays the same. Not even 100+ year old trees. But I will still grieve their deaths.