Mack Williams: Fads and webs

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2016

It is part of human nature to go through fads; I went through some of the following while I was growing up: Davey Crockett hat, hula hoop, Red Ryder outfit (with guns), Bat Masterson cane, Rifleman rifle, etc. (By these things mentioned, you can see I grew up during TVs “western fad.”)

In the recent Pokémon fad, many people are looking for imaginary rats. In Europe of the Middle Ages, people didn’t have to go looking for imaginary rats; they had the real thing all around them, and that was the problem!

Nature goes through fads, too (in fact, the Great Plague could be called one of them). One could also say that just prior to the Exodus, Ancient Egypt got visited by a series of mother nature’s “fads” (locusts, frogs, flies, boils, etc.) on a heavenly mission!

From my observations of the last few weeks (nothing scientific, just glances at trees while driving), I said to myself: “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many gypsy moth caterpillar webs before!” When I went to the computer and looked up “gypsy moth caterpillar,” I discovered that wasn’t what they were, because gypsy moth caterpillars don’t make webs, but I also saw a really cool type of small plane and a movie by that name!

Despite those webs being off the ground, they weren’t anything romantic like a plane from air flight’s “barn-storming” days, or the movie, “Gypsy Moths” (1969) with Burt Lancaster and Debora Kerr, so I decided to Google “tent caterpillar.” The inclusion of the word “tent” made me think of the Bedouin, desert sands, Rudolf Valentino, the French Foreign Legion, and the Riff Song; but when I googled “tent caterpillar” and looked at pictures of its webs, they also weren’t the same as what I was seeing, so I googled further (so much for the Riff Song).

The picture exactly matching observation was something with the lowly sounding name “webworm,” making me think of the ethernet version of one who can’t keep his nose out of a book.

I didn’t fully realize the current “explosion” of these webs until driving down U.S. Highway 86 to Yanceyville. One tree had over 20 webs, making it look (except for the fact that it wasn’t a pine) like a Christmas tree decorated with “webworm balls.”

At present, bored children on car trips would consider these webs to be surer “counting fodder” than cows.

Another tree had many webs which seemed to be almost touching, reminding me of some astrophysicist’s model of multiple, parallel, but separate universes, connected by, what else: “wormholes.”

One deciduous tree was made to resemble a pine because the webs were broad at the lower part of the tree, becoming progressively shorter toward the top, making it look like the “gauzy ghost” of that long-gone great pine in W.A. Cline’s front yard on the Old Concord Road.

Speaking of ghosts, the shapes of some of these “spinnings” look like ectoplasmic impersonations of Spanish moss. Mistletoe impersonates a “bush” living in the top of a tree, while kudzu “impersonates” the tree as a whole (also performing “impersonations” of barns, outbuildings, silos, and anything else in its way).

I didn’t see even one single webworm anchored to kudzu, probably because in comparison to other plants, kudzu is a “moving” target!

While most of the webworm “clumps” are of dirty-beige color, some in the early morning appear to be almost as white as snow. Since those marble-white webs are full of dead things (leaves) and “worms,” I thought of a similarity to “whitened sepulchers.”

The internet advises not setting fire to these webs to effect their removal; but that’s what everyone in my old neighborhood did to get rid of them! From my youth, I remember torches held high to destroy webworms in the trees, and dogs “dipped” low into a barrel of kerosene-concoction to rid them of fleas and ticks (such “dipping” I remember from W.A. Cline’s, across the road).

I guess the webworm’s greatest sin, besides that of tree defoliation and “aesthetic detraction” from someone’s yard, is that it has the rank, selfish audacity to not be adaptable into something useful to man; so why not torch them (just kidding).

While the silkworm’s “cocooned” thread can be caught, unraveled, and spun into a number of useful clothing items, not so the webworm’s sickly looking string.

But come to think of it, I really can’t imagine anyone boasting of their “webworm little black dress,” their “100% webworm tie,” their “webworm pocket handkerchief,” their “webworm shirt,” their “seamless webworm stockings,” and definitely not their “webworm underpants!”

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