Editorial: Autumn’s changing ways

As this newspaper was going to press came word of a new government census: Exactly how many stink bugs are there? That’s kind of like asking how hot the sun is (answer: damn hot!).

Still, the agriculture department’s attempt to quantify the invasive insect is well-intentioned, sparked in part by Virginia’s own Congressman Frank Wolf, whose district includes farms north and east of Rappahannock and who is leading efforts to control the agricultural pest.

Apples and other fruits seem to be the bugs’ food of choice. So for farmers with the few remaining orchards in Rappahannock, stink bugs pose economic threats far beyond the aesthetic annoyance suffered by virtually all residents here as the insects invade dwellings to overwinter.

Not so long ago, the changing of seasons meant an abundance of apples not only in Rappahannock but also across the mountains in the Shenandoah Valley, especially the area around Winchester. Many, if not most, of those small family orchards have now been abandoned or turned into other agricultural uses, however, unable to profitably compete with the scaled-up operations in other parts of the country.

Now, as a harbinger of autumn, we have stink bugs instead of apples. For both occurrences, we can blame only ourselves. In our neverending quest for the cheapest products, apple production was industrialized and container ships from China brought the brown marmorated stink bug.

It’s only fitting, then, that another harbinger of autumn is no longer so much the changing of the leaves themselves as the horde of people coming from elsewhere and clogging the roads to view them. “The Leaf Brigades,” some locals have named the horde.

Even the timing and vibrancy of the autumn foliage, evidence suggests, may be at the mercy of human activity. Of the two key variables — length of daylight and temperature — the latter has been inching ever upwards.

For those who want to participate in the stinkbug census, here’s an Internet link: http://bit.ly/1m8psBU.

Walter Nicklin

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