PHOTO: Rachael Dupree
Rachael Dupree
August 3, 2018

With the little one in the early stages of walking, I’ve begun to see the farm in a new perspective: one that is lower to the ground and moves a little more slowly. She holds onto my fingers and we toddle through the grass, up the hill and to our field. What might be described as an easy jaunt for you or me is a grand adventure for her, but one she conquers with the heart of an explorer. Along the way, we stop to play in a mud puddle or pick clovers. She has a slow, deliberate way of approaching her environment that’s not concerned about the dishes piling up in the sink or the weeds growing in the garden. She’s immersed in her surroundings with no distractions or other objective than to observe and delight in this wild wonderful world.

This change of pace has allowed me to appreciate the land in a new way and has opened my eyes to the tiniest creatures that call this place home. Down low, we take part in the dance of the plant life, blades of grass intermingling with briars and wildflowers and saplings. We follow beetles, crickets and other bugs that move too quickly to identify as they traverse the vegetation and rocky soil. When her legs get tired, we sit and watch green frogs poke their head above the surface of the pond, or I pick her up so she can study a leaf hanging from a branch.

On a recent adventure, we spotted a wad of leaves dangling from a tree on a silk thread. At first I thought nothing of what I saw, assuming it was debris that had gotten caught in a spider web. Then I saw another. And then another. Then I realized these “wads,” despite being made of different tree materials, all took on a similar shape. Upon closer inspection, I found a worm crawling around inside what wasn’t a wad at all but a bag-like structure.

bagworms in cedar tree
Rachael Dupree

Unlike the little one, I’m not always so content to just observe how the world around me works. Thank goodness that when wonder escapes me and the urge for solid facts overcomes, Google’s drag-and-drop image search function can help me find my answers. It quickly told me more about this new find: cedar bagworms.

This native pest favors the eastern red cedar, which grows prolifically in our area, and indeed, I’ve seen its little bags made up of browned cedar leaves and blue cedar berries covering many of the cedars in our field. (Isn’t funny how once you know something exists, you see it everywhere?) While its preferred hosts are evergreens, they also build their cozy cocoons in hardwood trees, such as the boxelder, under which I discovered that first “wad.”

The worms feed on the trees and can defoliate them to the point of death. While this can be a problem in urban areas and for those with ornamentals or an orchard crop, it’s not much of a forestry concern, and I’m definitely not concerned about it on our land. Here, the cedars are understory trees, which will eventually give way to tall hardwoods. Should we lose a few cedars to bagworms, it would hardly put a dent in our supply. If, in the future, we plant orchard trees that were to become affected, then we might consider a pest-control strategy. For now, we’ll continue to let the bagworms do their thing, and allow their natural predators—birds and parasitic wasps—to take care of any infestations.

This land always teaches me something new, and thanks to our sweet babe, my eyes have been opened to a whole new layer of life here. I can’t even begin to fathom what we’ll get into as she begins to toddle on her own and ask questions about her discoveries. All I can say is I’m ready for the adventure.


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