About two years ago, my wife and I bought two blue spruce trees to serve as a visual shield between our house and that of our neighbor’s. About a week ago, my wife noticed that one of the trees was covered in bagworms. The tree looked like it was decorated with organic Christmas tree ornaments — like someone clipped the tips of each branch and strung them in place. The worms seem to make a bag for themselves that’s made, in part, from pieces of the tree itself (in this case, from pine needles). And then the worms seem to overeat the rest of the needles until the tree dies.
I put on gloves and grabbed a plastic bucket and plucked off every bag that I could find. I feel like I dropped a hundred bags in the bucket. As far as I could tell, each bag could have been empty. I didn’t see any actual worms.
I emptied the bucket in our fire pit. We planned to start a bonfire at sunset, but after about an hour, my wife told me I would be disgusted by what “my bagworms” were doing.
I went over to the fire pit. The bagworms had been crawling. Several were already hanging from the highest stick that I had placed in the fire pit as kindle. One was actively crawling up the wall of the fire pit. You could see the top of the black worm contracting and expanding and dragging its bag with it as it moved, like a snail carrying its shell.
I started the fire immediately. I grabbed a stick and poked the bagworm crawling up the wall until it fell back down.
I pulled two chairs around the fire pit and sat in one of them. I opened a beer. I felt a deep, primal satisfaction, sitting by the fire early on a summer evening, beer in hand, witnessing the successful slaughter of my enemies.
The worms did disgust me. While plucking them off the blue spruce, I felt a sense of moral outrage on behalf of the tree. Without my intervention, these little alien creatures would have mindlessly killed that tree.
After taking a drink of beer and placing it back on the makeshift table I had made by balancing logs on top of each other, I felt a sense of panic. There was a bagworm crawling up the table. I grabbed the worm by its bag and flung it into the fire. I started slowly walking around the perimeter of the fire pit, scanning the grass for any other bagworms that had escaped.
My wife started to get annoyed. She asked me if I was going to be paranoid all night. She told me, “You can’t stop nature.”
Over the course of the evening, I noticed two more bagworms in the grass. I don’t know how they got out. I wondered whether they were somehow able to float out of the fire, or if they could have crawled through the stones I had placed to make the fire pit, instead of climbing directly up and over, which I felt like surely I would have noticed.
It’s been a week, and the blue spruce is clearly going to survive. There’s new growth, though the tree is noticeably shorter than the one we planted at the same time, the one I call its “brother” when I talk to myself. I keep checking both trees for more bagworms.