The Ash of North America are in a dire state.

You’ve got to drill a hole deep in the trunk for inoculation against infection, or infestation, rather. And then the syringe looks just like one that you’d get yourself, for a vaccine. It’s weird, or it looks weird I guess, to give a shot to a tree.

Somebody parked by the side of the road once while I was doing it, giving one, and she got out and she didn’t even ask any questions about what was going on, what I was doing, she just started yelling at me, right on the side of the highway, about how it looked evil and was, you know, at the very least unnatural, whatever it was I was doing. And the forest has been through enough. And I said “Ma’am, ma’am, I work for the state, I’m supposed to be doing this, it’s on purpose and to keep it alive.”

But she wouldn’t hear it, she said, “Better to let it go natural than by plastic and chemicals and humanity.”

And I said, “Well, you know, that depends a lot on your definition of natural. It’s the Emerald Ash Borer is the danger ma’am, it’s a bug. An Asian bug. From far far away. And it’s boring, like a hole, like its name, boring into the trunks for warmth, parasitically, and cutting off the nutrition supply. And it’s organic, you know, natural that way, because it’s a bug, but this isn’t its habitat and it’s a different sort of offense against nature for it to be here at all, sweeping through and committing this sort of very natural genocide. The death toll in America is going to be in the billions.” I said it just exactly like that.

And she looked me in the eye with this hot, fiery, mean look and she said to me, “And you think you can do something about it?”

And I said to her, “Well ma’am, it’s still unclear, but we don’t really think so. Our efforts so far have been ineffective.”

And I was being sincere and honest and sort of raw and emotional, because that’s tough to admit, your impotence is, but I guess it didn’t come off that way, or she was confused or didn’t quite get it, or maybe I just didn’t understand her so I wasn’t saying the right things. But what she did was she spit on me, on my chest, on my uniform, and climbed back in her car and peeled away. I only saw her the one time.

I got her license plate number, but I didn’t send it to anybody because I felt more confused than assaulted. People don’t usually protest a last stand.

The treatment, the inoculation, is an annual one, and it’s expensive. And I’m not certain it will work forever. There are eight billion Ash trees in the U.S. and more in Canada and it’s been predicted, by scientists, specialists, entomologists, that ninety-five percent of them will die in the next decade or so because of the Borer.

It’s a pretty little green shiny grasshopper looking bug.

We didn’t notice it at all or take it very seriously at first, so it spread around in a big way before we knew it was an issue. We means North America, the continent and everybody in it, a lot of us. It was alarming, and scary, to realize how far it had crept in without us realizing. But what’s also true is that it wouldn’t really have mattered if we’d known and tried to catch it right away. It’s really a very efficient killer of trees, and besides the annual inoculation there’s no way at all we know how to stop it.

The way I look at it sometimes at night when I can’t sleep and want something to hold onto is that real, true Hopelessness is rare, and that I should savor it while it’s here, washing over me. More often there are answers and ways out of difficult situations than real, complete hopelessness.

Most of where I work is Ash, and with where we are and what’s predicted, it should mostly be gone within the decade. I understand it, definitely, but I find it difficult to picture, to imagine.

My uncle, my dad’s way older brother by fifteen years, was this very rugged, handsome geologist who had a picture of himself shirtless, bronzed, sitting on a camel in front of the pyramids during a business trip he once had to take to Cairo. And I would look at it a lot, the picture, when I was over there, at his house, and think, wow, perfect. And then, when I was in seventh grade, he got cancer.

But he didn’t die. It was operable. They got it in time, like we never could have with the Ash Borer. It was jaw cancer, though, he chewed tobacco and that’ll happen. So they
took out his entire lower half of his face. He still had skin and lips and everything, but they weren’t connected to a chin. So he would always be drooling and mumbling and stuffing his tongue back into his face with it slipping back out over and over again.

He fell off very suddenly in my brain, I was twelve, from a perfect Egypt adventure man into a cripple, and I could never really look at him the same. He got married, later, to a lady he met after the surgery. She said he was a beautiful man and all you had to do to see that was to look at his soul. But that doesn’t make any sense in a literal way, and I’ve never been able to understand.

I hope I land on a similar sort of senseless and spiritual love when everything around isn’t the same sort of beautiful I’m used to. It’s true that everything here didn’t used to be like this. It’s looked different before, a bunch of times, more than we know even, since the beginning of forever, dinosaurs and ice ages and everything, but I’ve never actually had to watch it change. They’re easy to mention, the phases of the world and the universe, but we’re not used to witnessing devastation in the slow way it washes over.

I think it’s going to be awesome, in the pure, overwhelming, literal way of the word. Awesome. And I don’t know if I’ll be able to take it.


Robert Zander Norman is a graduate of NYU’s Dramatic Writing program. He is from San Jose, California and is the founder and publisher of curtainboybooks. His plays have been performed in New York and the Bay Area.