Something is happening here on my mountain I find alarming, but nobody else does. The last few years I've seen butterflies diminish in number so much and so fast, I see we will not have butterflies next year. This year I've seen just a few butterflies. Years past, I saw multitudes of them around clusters of Joe Pye flowers. Last year just a few, this year mostly none, now and then one appears. The county's long-arm bush-hog used for trimming the sides of the roads of small trees and other growth, that makes ugly out of beautiful everywhere it goes, came through here a week or so ago. The driver of the tractor made it a point to go out of his way to make a special effort to mow down the stand of Joe Pyes behind my mailbox post. I was out picking up the mail next day and saw a lone butterfly flying around the mailbox looking for the Joe Pye. It was a sad moment for me to see a lone butterfly looking for the flowers that were there the day before. It's not stupidity on the driver's part, it's following orders, doing what he's told, policy. Years ago, I put a 6' long wrecking bar in the ground next to a Joe Pye to protect it. He mowed up to the bar, raised the mower over the bar and took out the Joe Pye the other side of it.
An acre of wildflowers in the donkey meadow was loaded with flowers all summer. Walking in the meadow through the wildflowers, I never saw one honeybee. Only saw a few bumble bees, very few, and them smaller than they used to be. Insects that also pollinate were absent. Saw very few bugs this summer. The jewelweed flowered far less this year than ever before. Between the house and where I park the car is a big patch of jewelweed. Few flowers this year and few seedpods. I've not seen any hummingbirds among them this year. The Christmas tree growers have poisoned the water so the native trout have died out, as have the minnows and the snails. The water snakes that live on fish in the creeks are far less in number. My land is surrounded on three sides by Christmas tree fields. They have poisoned the entire mountain. Far fewer birds come to the bird feeders this year. This is the first year I've seen dramatic absence of life around here. Nobody says a word about it. I bring it up to somebody and I'm accused of being a conspiracy theorist, telling you I live among extremely right-wing republicans. Virginia Foxx, the parrot, is my so-called representative.
I've not seen any wasp nests this year. The exterior walls to the house are perfect for mud daubers to fix their clay tubes to. None this year. I've not seen hornets or yellow jackets. Just a few years ago, all these insects were abundant here. After about twenty years of Christmas trees on the mountain, life is nearly extinguished, the topsoil is ruined and the creeks poisoned. The County advises residents not to drink water from springs, rather to use wells for the deep underground water. Christmas trees are the money crop in the area. The growers make enough money to be a big chunk of the county's tax base, so much that they rule. Like the multi-national corporations have taken over national government, the Christmas tree growers have become our local government. Commissioners have become subservient to the Christmas tree growers who drive the new oxymoron, Cadillac pickups. County government does not encourage the growers to be less toxic or mindful of the statistic that this county has the highest rate of cancer in the state. Everybody knows it, it's understood. The County tells us not to drink the water. Too bad the ground water is poison, somebody is making money, the only part that matters.
It makes me feel weird to be the only one seeing what is happening, or not denying it. Plus, it's not on television. Television people don't notice things like butterflies and bees as anything but nuisance. Fake news tells them it isn't happening. If I were to mention to county authorities the Christmas tree growers have killed life on Air Bellows Mountain, I'd be told it's not really like that, I need to be less dramatic and get with the program. It's the same everywhere Christmas trees grow. The growers put out press that they are environmentally conscious and don't use chemicals much. But when they do, instead of spraying the trees individually like they used to, a grower in an enclosed tractor sprays the fields from the road at night with a vast sprayer putting out a fog that goes where the wind blows. They do it at night so residents won't see it. They fertilize by helicopter, spraying fertilizer pellets in the woods and creek when the copter turns around, sounding like hail on my roof. I don't want their oil-based fertilizer on my land. Too bad. The rain washes the fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides down the hill onto my land. The donkeys are, thereby, poisoned too. In forty years I've seen abundant, rich land, pristine creeks abundant with native trout, minnows, water snakes, poisoned to the extent the land and water have become poison. For money and television.
photos by tj worthington