“So sad. So very sad. But there’s hope for recovery.”

She’s slowly shaking her head as her ancient German shepherd tugs on his leash. Her dog-walking partner nods in agreement and the three continue on toward one of the exits to the parking areas on Roland Street.

I’d come upon them with my wee rescue dog during our weekly hike along our favorite trails in the Wood’s Hollow Nature Preserve. I’d acknowledged them with a nod and small smiles while the canines did the usual quick greeting by exchanging private parts sniffing. We didn’t linger or speak.

I didn’t understand what their brief conversation was referencing; it wasn’t my business anyway.

Until we begin to follow our chosen trail.

The forest on both sides of the path is flooded with overbearing sunlight. It is sharp, unfiltered, hot sun—not the usual shaded cool. We trudge along. I’m now hot and sweaty; the dog panting. Odd. Then it gob-smacks me: the trees are bare. No leaves, no needles. Conifers and deciduous alike. It looks like winter or at best, early spring. As normal, however, sticky pine cones and needles are shoes-deep underfoot. Nothing different there.

I search the tree trunks and branches for evidence of cause. It can’t be drought because we’ve had unusual amounts of rain lately. By contrast, I see no rot or moss where it shouldn’t be. I see no pests. I see no nests for what might be pests. Puzzled, we proceed onto the next trail section. Trees are not quite as naked. A bit more shaded. Dog and I have a drink of water. Better.

Just as we’re feeling refreshed, the next sector of the hike is as devastated as the first, followed by another not quite as severely distressed.

The “a-ha” moment dawns: the gypsy moth caterpillars have invaded, trashing areas of this beautiful forest.

We continue with this alternating pattern of sadness until finally, I notice that in this zone, there are tiny new buds on the tips of various species of deciduous trees—not yet spring’s “blush” but buds, nonetheless. Some of the pine trees have small bundles of bright green needles sprouting at the ends of barren fragile branches.

No wonder I don’t see the cocoons or caterpillars—they’ve finished their attack.

I suddenly remember the overheard comments at our entrance to the preserve and understand:

“So sad. So very sad. But there’s hope for recovery.”

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