There are things worth worrying about that affect our lives. There also are things that will not affect us which can be ignored with impunity. We have a talent for getting it backwards and ignoring the important issues and worrying endlessly about things of no consequence. I enjoy identifying the latter to callers and telling them to keep their money in their wallets and get on with other endeavors.
The following examples are from the “ignore it and get on with your life” files:
• I have received several calls about the fine webbing covering portions of tree trunks along the coast. Most folk think this is tent caterpillar, but no, it is in the wrong place. It is on the trunks and large limbs but not enveloping the leaves. These are bark lice, but just as Spanish moss is neither Spanish nor a moss, bark lice are not lice nor do they eat bark. Bark lice are insects about the size of a pin head and belong to an insect group known as the Psocids. These bark lice graze off fungi and lichens that grow on tree bark. They are harmless and can be ignored. Their webs will naturally deteriorate and disappear. Go find something else to worry about.
• With all the storms and high tides, the marsh rack has been pushed up on beaches and into the yards of some waterfront homes. Something should be done to get rid of this ugly dead debris! An ancient parable tells of the five blind Indians at the elephant. One touched the elephant’s trunk, declaring elephants to be like a large snake. The man touching the elephant’s ear declared it to be a large leaf. The man at the elephant’s leg declared it to be like a tree, and so on. Each was right, from his point of view, but all were wrong because they did not understand how all the parts fit together to form the elephant.
Marsh rack is the accumulated dead plant material of the marsh, principally spartina alternaflora. It is the start of the food chain for the marsh and represents all the carbon and minerals sequestered by the plant while it was alive. Its resources are cycled back into the marsh as it is broken down into detritus and are a food source and anchoring point for many small plants, animals and bacteria that form the start of the food web of the marsh.
The marsh rack is an essential component of the marsh. Removing the marsh rack from the marsh and beaches would be analogous to planting and harvesting crop after crop and never adding back fertilizer or plowing back in crop residues. We did this with cotton 200 years ago — burned the carbon out of the soil and failed to replace lost minerals — and found out how fast crop yields could fall.
The marshes replenish themselves without our help and will continue to do so if we let them. We have a name for areas where marsh rack is not allowed to accumulate. We call them mud flats. Ahhh, the Mud Flats of Glynn!
Someday, we will learn the law of unintended consequences. If not, nature will make us the man in the following metaphor, which I found on Wikipedia:
Six blind elephants were discussing what men were like. After arguing they decided to find one and determine what it was like by direct experience. The first blind elephant felt the man and declared, “Men are flat.” After all the blind elephants felt the man, they agreed.
Gardner is the extension agent for South Bryan County and Glynn County.