Monday, June 1, 2015

catalpa massacre

I went back to the Little Sandy River yesterday morning with my kayak.  It was early morning (well, early for me), on a breezy day with big puffy white clouds floating around.  Paddling up river was a bit hard because I was headed into the wind and against the current.  Once I got away from the mouth of the river where the water is wider and shallower, the hills blocked the wind somewhat and it was easier going. 

The black locust trees along the river have shed their blooms, and now the honeysuckle, blackberries, and catalpa trees make the river smell as magical as it looks.  Thick patches of honeysuckle and blackberry briars grow all along the shoreline.  The blackberries are thick with blooms.  The catalpa trees are also blooming.  Branches that overhang the water drop their blossoms into the water.  The current carries them downstream.  I began seeing blossoms scattered all across the water at least a half mile before I saw the first tree.  The blossoms are waxy and look fresh on the water, but when you pull one out, it wilts in a matter of minutes. 

Single bloom of catalpa tree

Branch of catalpa tree
Blackberries in bloom

My great grandfather kept several catalpa trees on his farm.  He cut them back severely every fall so that the main trunk was only about 5 feet tall.  In the spring, the trees would grow branches straight out from the top edge of the trunk.  It was really an abomination of nature to see these poor trees, but he had his reasons for doing this.  The branches were very straight and sturdy, and they rotted slowly.  He used them for bean poles.  Kentucky Wonder are the pole beans he always grew: they are prolific producers and you can still buy the seeds even today.  I liked picking pole beans much more than bush beans because I didn’t have to bend over to harvest them.  My older brother picked the ones I couldn’t reach, so we worked together as a team.  Actually, we were supposed to be a team of three, but little brother was always too busy catching bugs, toads, garter snakes, and other such creepy-crawlies.

When the blooms drop off a catalpa tree, long beans develop.  Sometimes people call these bean trees.  Some of the kids at school called them cigar trees.  

catalpa with "beans"

What I remember most about catalpa trees is that they attract catalpa worms, which are really large, fat, green caterpillars.  My older brother had a Daisy BB rifle.  Although we were forbidden to shoot at living things (like birds and squirrels) or trains and cars with it, nobody objected to us shooting catalpa worms.  We shot them, execution style, for the ones on the lower part of the tree.  Sometimes we shot the worms clean off the leaves, but usually part would hang onto the leaf and its guts would drip to the grass below.  It’s really gross to think about, but we took turns doing it without any regard for the poor worms or to the moths they might have become.

catalpa caterpillar becomes a drab, furry brown moth 

I can hardly bring myself to kill anything anymore, other than wasps and flies that get into the house, or mosquitos.  I don’t like being the terminator.  

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