High Desert Hoofbeats – June 27, 2019

“You have some golden rain in your hair,” I told my mom Tuesday after she’d come in from Center Street. I plucked a small yellow blossom from her head and flicked it away. It’s that time of year when the trees that line downtown streets put forth millions of small flowers, making a lemony carpet on sidewalks, inside your car if you leave the windows down, and even on your pate if you linger long on the sidewalks.

I like the trees, even though they can be quite messy. They are somewhat drought tolerant, and they are pretty. Their bounty follows the earlier onslaught of elm seeds that are now decomposing, blowing away or sprouting new trees throughout the Moab Valley.

The moist winter and spring have been a boon to vegetation and also to bugs. Many Moab homes have been infested with elm seed beetles, a relative newcomer in the desert southwest. The small black bugs are native to Europe and were first detected in the U.S. in 2012 in Idaho, having since traveled to Oregon, Utah and Colorado, if not farther.

The bugs eat Siberian elms, but don’t hurt the trees. In protected spots the bugs can over-winter, especially if winter temperatures are milder than average. They emerge in early spring to lay eggs on elm flowers, and the nymphs hatch from late April to June. When it gets hot outside, the bugs seek refuge in cooler places, like people’s homes. Judging from our relatively cool summer of late, the worst of those invaders could be yet to come as temperatures lurk closer to 100 degrees.

I don’t have elm seed beetles at my house (knock on elm wood—I don’t have any of those trees either). Luckily, we didn’t have many of the moths that infested Moab for a short time a couple of weeks ago. But I have had a bunch of green stinkbugs for the first time in my memory. Their presence is probably owing to weather conditions, including the fact that I’ve been able to leave the kitchen door open to mild temperatures, which reduces the number of times I have to open and close the door for my dogs. (And also because I’ve really enjoyed the cool, fresh air.) Perhaps these pests are the culprits eating my basil…

At any rate, this talk of bugs makes me itchy all over, but not quite so itchy as the bites I have from gnats and mosquitos. One of my earlobes, swollen to twice its size, is just now recovering from a cluster of bites I discovered after an evening of sitting on the patio with friends.

I’m not much for wearing slacks in the summer. Shorts and dresses are more to my suiting, except this year, when the bugs have been terribly thick. I’m not a fan of bug repellent, so a partial solution is to cover up. My favorite anti-dote to ease the unease is Sore No More, produced by longtime Moab idea-man Joe Kingsley. Its blend of natural analgesics combines menthol, capsaicin and witch hazel, and it works better than the pink caladryl lotion that my mom used to keep in the fridge to put on us when we were kids.

We grew up in a house on 500 West that is now a bed and breakfast. But when I was a kid there were ditches that ran on the west side of the street instead of curb and gutter. What is now the greater Orchard Villa neighborhood was indeed an apple orchard. The sloughs crept right up to its western edge, and man did we have mosquitos back then.

Regularly during summer nights I’d be awakened to the roar of the mosquito fogger as it pulled through town, its headlights piercing through mists of chemicals that probably wiped out much more than biting insects. I’d like to believe that we’ve come a very long way in controlling pesky biters, especially disease-bearing pests—than back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The Mosquito Abatement District has been alerting our community for a couple of days about their efforts to fight back the exponential numbers of biters this year. I hope their efforts are successful, without harm to innocent bystanders such as humans, birds, bats, butterflies and animals. It’s the pesky, pesty time of year. Whether it’s golden rain blossoms, hot temperatures or biting insects, we are all trying to stay comfortable. Officials have charted their course of action based on facts and mandates, believing it is in the best interest of the community to reduce their exponential numbers.