Sunday, September 22, 2013

Good RIDDANCE to Summer!

A house is fully engulfed by the Black Forest Fire.
Massive fires, and now floods, seem to be more and more in the future of Colorado with each passing summer.

Two weeks ago, a neighbor inquired into my use of a chain saw to cut down a weed.  I pointed out to him that this (now)  4 ft. high invader had already broken my large shears - trying to take it down- and this emerged as the only solution. He then laughed, as he continued walking his dog, and exclaimed:

"I believe the weeds are taking over! They already have my place!"

The good thing is an end to the war may be in sight - along with a merciful end to the summer. Today, at precisely 4.44 p.m. EDT, (2: 44 MDT)  the Sun (in its path along the ecliptic), crosses the celestial equator moving southward and heralds the autumnal equinox. (Equinox meaning equal day and night all over the world). Thus, autumn enters, and a miserable summer departs.

What made the summer miserable?

First, the advent of  summer over here each year is marked by an invasion of tens of millions of moths. The Miller Moth has attained notoriety by being able to somehow miss its ultimate destination - the mountains - heading instead toward Front Range city lights. The critters, thereby disoriented, enter homes by the hundreds, crawling through tiny cracks you'd never believe a flat worm could negotiate - and ending up on carpets, drapes, in dishes, in food, in heat vents and .....'dive bombing' humans forced to use "the throne" late at night. Oh, they also try to squirm into the ears  of sleeping humans....or pets...They aren't choosy!

The invasion usually lasts a full month, sometimes longer. The usual way we deal with it is to fill bowls with water then place them directly under bright lights to allow the little beasties to dive bomb into the water.  After collecting maybe fifty or sixty at a time, the bowl is emptied on the lawn - the moths essentially dead, or near dead. Another way, more my choice - not Janice's  - is to snatch any little bugger I can (say off a wall) then crunch it between my fingers and chuck it into a disposal.  Look, the little bastards are cute, make no mistake, and we hate to butcher their sorry little asses, but they are pests! Ask Krimhilde - my sister-in law-  who visits with us every other year and on one occasion ran screaming from her room as one determined Miller moth tried to wiggle into her ear canal.

By the time the moth invasion ends the summer solstice has usually already begun and then it's time for: weeds, skunks and fires!  The weeds, depending on the temperatures (more if warmer) usually start erupting in late April, and by mid summer have taken over nearly the whole yard. How tough are they/ Tough! Forget standard lawn mowers or even large shears, you often need a chain saw to take down the biggest ones - which I was shocked to see had reached heights of up to 4 feet in my backyard this year.  Neglect to take care of them, and you get "weed trees" - as incredible as it may sound.

Somehow, some way, the weeds in the Rocky Mountain West have been getting "jet fuel". What is it? Well, its higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, thanks to global warming!  This is no joke! The warning was probably first sounded three years ago in 2 articles in The Wall Street Journal (June 4, 2010,  p A16, 'Superweeds Trigger New Arms Race'; and June 21, p. D1, 'Least Welcome Sign of Summer')

According to the first account, by the middle of this decade at least 40% of U.S. corn and soybean crops will "harbor Roundup resistant super weeds". Roundup, and especially Monsanto's Roundup -ready seeds, have been amongst the biggest "success stories" in the domain of weed control, primarily because of its primary constituent:  glyphosate- which is one of the least toxic around. As one farmer cited in the first article put it: If glyphosate isn't the safest herbicide, it's damned close".

The article described nine species of weed that  have developed total immunity to it and spread to millions of acres in more than twenty states. One farmer, quoted,  from Osceola, AR  claimed he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on herbicide, but couldn't control the pigweed which now runs rampant over his 8,600 acre field.

The variant of pigweed on his property grows to six feet in height on a stalk the width of a baseball bat's wide end. The weed is so tough, it damages mechanical parts of his cotton picking equipment and must be rooted out by hand. The farmer had to hire 20 labor hands to attack the weeds using hoes, even then breaking a number of them. Hmmmm.....sounds familiar!  The second article references a study published in the journal Weed Science, in 2007, which indicates poison ivy is getting bigger and spreading faster, plus producing more urushiol as a result of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The emergence of these super weeds, especially as threats to farm productivity (not to mention yards) has convinced many farmers they must resort to much more toxic weedicides to get the job done. That includes using such infamous carcinogenic agents as: 2, 4- D, dicamba and paraquat. But critics have warned given the uncontrolled factors afoot, such as ever increasing CO2 concentrations (now tipping at nearly 400 ppm) all that will happen is that even more super weeds will emerge, resistant to even those arch-herbicides.

My neighbors - to battle their yard weeds, have resorted to atrazine but they are fighting a losing battle. Each year the dandelions and other weeds grow larger and take up more area. In the end, even when their yard looks luscious green, they can't enjoy it - and are compelled to erect 'Danger - POISON!' signs to keep kids and pets off.

Then there are the skunks. They've invaded only over the past two years, arriving with the major fires in Waldo Canyon (last year) and Black Forest (this year). Perhaps they were chased out of their natural enclaves, who knows? What we do know, in our neighborhood, is people have to keep dogs in the house at night .....or risk them being skunk sprayed as happened to one forlorn dog two houses down two months ago. Skunks make their presence known by spraying.....maybe just for the hell of it. At least three times this year we've had to shut all windows in the house as the "aromatic" odor from skunk spray wended its way in.   Far worse than the malodorous fumes is the fact that skunks here have now emerged as the primary carriers of rabies.

With the Waldo Canyon fire, meanwhile, we've received a wake up call here in Colorado, that monster blazes may well be recurring part of our summers every year. But this was predicted by NOAA and other sources, i.e. hotter, drier and longer 'tinder box' summers, coupled with trees turned into tinder by pests like the Mountain Pine Beetle.  We had a second demonstration of the dynamic this year with the Black Forest Fire. Understandably, major efforts are now being made across the Front Range for fire mitigation - which includes insurance companies demanding home owners in fire hazard areas to clear cut shrubs and trees from their property up to a certain distance. It's great that so many people love to live essentially in a forested area, but not great the rest of us (who don't) have to subsidize their insurance premiums each time fires hit. This will be another bone of contention that needs to be addressed among different sets of homeowners in the region.

Then there are the floods....what can I say? Who would have thought or believed that such a "Katrina-like" deluge would strike an arid state - located in what is known as the high desert region of the country. But there it is!  What it discloses is that the perturbations induced by climate change can wreak havoc even in areas where one would normally not expect such disasters. All it took was days of high heat, with temperatures 15-17 degrees above normal, followed by a cold front coming in and the delayed start of the yearly "monsoons". Then...WHAMMO! Massive floods sending rivers and creeks in the northern part of the state up to five and six feet over flood stage. Whole towns, like Lyons and Jamestown swept away, as well as forty or more miles of roads, highways and people still cut off.

Let me say, with the arrival of fall, I am happy be done with the pests, the weeds, the fires and hopefully the floods. Sure, there'll be raking of leaves, but that's a minor nuisance compared to the other crap.

Next summer? I will deal with that when it arrives!

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