The man shouts: “I’ve come to spray the tree!”
My heart stops. “What?!” I yank open the door.
“This tree.” He points to the large Bishop Pine (Pinus muricata) that’s growing by my front door. I love this tree. My son’s swing hangs from its lower branches. It has large prickly cones and deeply furrowed bark. This tree is part of our family.
There’s obviously been some kind of mistake.
“No. “I tell him. “We don’t need a tree sprayer, thank you.”
But the man doesn’t budge. He says he sprays here every year.
“Listen,” I say. “I live here and I don’t want you to spray this tree!”
We stare at each other. I ask him why he’s spraying.
“Bark beetle” he says.
“But there isn’t any bark beetle on that tree!”
“That’s because we spray it every year,” he says slowly, like I’m some kind of idiot.
“I have a child.” I tell him. “Is that spray toxic?”
“Oh, yes ma’am. It’s toxic alright. But don’t worry, I’m only going to spray this tree by the front door. You’re lucky, a couple o’ years ago we’d cloud the whole yard, then the whole street. Now we just do one tree at a time.” He smiles. “Don’t worry I’ll hose the surrounding bushes down with water afterwards.” Pause. “But you might not want to come out here for a couple of hours.”
With that, he pulls on his thick protective gloves, straightens his white overalls, adjusts his mask, and proceeds to get his chemical pack out of the back of the truck. I feel like I’m in a bad movie. The one where everyone gets wiped out by the holocaust.
“But what about my child?” I plead. I’m desperate. I consider chaining myself to the tree.
The man shrugs, and carries on. Business as usual. I write down the name of the chemical from the truck and go inside to look it up on the internet.
Dragnet, active ingredient Permethrin. The EPA classifies it as a carcinogen, and links it to respiratory illness. It’s been banned in the UK and the EU for years. It’s a broad spectrum insecticide – it kills everything. Beneficial insects, butterflies, spiders, bees. It’s especially dangerous for aquatic species like fish, and deadly for cats.
I’m mortified. My son has chemical sensitivities, we have cats, we live on a creek, we have a vegetable and fruit garden, and now some guy is going to spray poison right outside the front door? What kind of world is this?
I telephone the pesticide company, where a woman assures me that their product is completely safe. “Yes,” she assures me. “It IS a pesticide but it’s not toxic and it’s completely natural – it’s actually made from chrysanthemums. Perfectly safe for people AND wildlife.”
I’m furious. Permethrin is a synthetic chemical. There’s nothing natural about it.
“If it’s so safe, then why does the spray guy have on full protective gear? And why did he tell me to stay inside for a few hours, and not to touch the tree for three weeks?!”
I slam down the phone.
It’s pointless trying to reason with a pesticide company whose business depends on selling a poisonous product designed to kill life.
Ours is a life-destroying culture, where misinformation, ignorance, greed and disconnect run so deep, that I wonder if we will ever reach a place of respect and reverence in our relationship with the living earth. Will the lunacy ever end?
The tree did not get sprayed this time. I stood in the way. I took a stand for my tree. But what about all the other trees? Who will stand for them?