We have a couple of HUGE cottonwoods in our backyard. HUGE. As in, I hope they don’t die in my lifetime because the cost of removing them and replacing those parts of the house that get smashed in the process will cost as much as the dream vacation I’ve developed in my mind’s eye HUGE. So when anything goes wrong with them we tend to act on it without hesitation.
The first summer we lived in our house there was a massive infestation of Tent Worms (or caterpillars) in our area. An interesting species, they are social creatures that usually build a large silk ‘tent’ in which they sleep at night and gather to communicate about food locations and other colonies of worms. During especially bad years tents can become so massive that they will engulf an entire cottonwood and even kill it. When an infestation occurs, the best method of control is to remove the branches that are involved and kill the worms.
Overnight a massive tent appeared in the cottonwood closest to the house. And of course it was located up high in a branch that required gymnastics and the deft skill of balance while pruning.
Once the branch was down the massive quantity of worms in the tent was disturbing. We didn’t want to smash them to smithereens, as that would leave too much nasty behind on either the deck or the driveway. Putting them in the trash would only delay the problem as they would only pupate and become a problem for someone else. We didn’t have a bucket that was big enough to completely submerge the tent, it’s contents, and the branch. That left one final option: Incineration.
All we needed was a container, the infested branch and a fuel. What could possibly go wrong? And what red-blooded male could possibly refuse the opportunity to play with fire in his backyard?
So, picture it. Its the middle of the summer during a drought, and in the center of the lawn sits a 35 gallon metal garbage can with a hole in it, the branch is stuffed into it with only a few wayward leaves hanging out, and gasoline has been poured over the branch and offending creatures. Charles stands tentatively over the combination, lights a match, drops it in… and.
Nothing. Nothing at all. So, more gas is applied, another match is lighted and dropped. And.
We poked, we prodded and we pondered and decided that “white gas” might be a better option. Charles rummaged through the camping equipment and came out with a container. Again we posed into position, poured some gas into the can, lit a match and dropped it.
A small fire began to burn and went out. Charles tipped the container to pour more into the can to try again and at that moment a “whomp” could be heard as the unseen flame opened, travelled up the stream of fuel and into the container, which was at that moment moving as quickly away from the trash can as Charles was, leaving in the lawn as he went a trail of fire and fuel.
The grass, which because of the time of year, drought and water restrictions began to quickly surrender to the trail of fire. Fortunately, we’d recently watered the garden, so the hose was still unraveled and it was only a matter of minutes before the fire had been extinguished and stomped out.
Returning our attention to the cause of all the action, the can of worms, we found that incineration was in fact an efficient method and the caterpillars would no longer be a problem. The lawn on the other hand, it needed some attention.