The writing life
I have been writing about the emerald ash borer, a tiny, shiny green beetle, for a good seven years or so, even before it arrived in the Badger State. I was the Paul Revere of bugs, warning people that the invasion was coming. It was only a matter of time.
So it was with some satisfaction that I stood in the driveway of the Anderson home in Janesville on Tuesday, looking at the city’s first borer-infested tree. I felt bad for the Andersons, of course. Mrs. A told me she felt like Typhoid Mary, although as far as she could figure, she hadn’t brought the bugs to Janesville.
Unless some scientific discovery saves us, Janesville will lose thousands of ash trees, and the plague will spread, as it has done since it was first discovered in Wisconsin, in 2008. The state could lose all its ashes, and Minnesota will be next, and that’s millions upon millions of trees. Michigan, where these Asian hitchhikers first appeared, has already lost millions. Streets that were planted from one end to the other with ashes are now barren, and residents spend a lot more on watering their lawns and on air conditioning, and their neighborhoods are not as nice to live in.
Yes, it was satisfying to be vindicated after all these years. I must admit it; I have experienced much happiness while writing about this bug that attacks our trees, eating them from the inside out, like some alien space invader. This happiness about having a good disaster story to tell the world is part of a newspaper writer’s life. It makes us a little off, a little weird, maybe. We learn to ignore our feelings about the bad news so we can be free to face the story head-on. It’s a trick of the heart, but it doesn’t always work. I have felt sadness, horror and anger from time to time over the years as I wrote about the evils we humans do, and I know the people I work with have felt the same. Some local murders come to mind, and child neglect and animal neglect and some sexual abuse cases I don’t want to think about, ever again.
If the preceding sounds like I am setting myself up as some kind of hero, then I have gone too far. I can’t do my job without people who are knowledgeable or brave or both, who tell me their stories. In the case of the emerald ash borer, I thank a group of local tree-loving volunteers who form the Janesville Shade Tree Advisory Committee. J-STAC worked to educate the public about the danger. I could never do my work without those people and their expertise. Without people like that, we’d be standing around, staring at our dying trees and wondering what the heck was happening. This is a big shout-out to people that we call our sources. Without them, we are nothing.
These are not the last words I’ll write on this subject. There will be years of decline as the ash trees slowly die, as they’re expensively cut down and carted away, and as we plant new trees to take their place, hoping that our children or grandchildren can enjoy them. I will write about that. I am a newspaper reporter, a middleman of sorts. It’s my job to talk to all kinds of people, learn what’s happening and string some words together in the hope that once in a while, I can inspire people to stop, think and maybe even take action for the good of all. I thank all of you for reading, now and in the future.