War on woolly bears

Rappahannock News - - EDITORIAL & OPINION -

With the hard-fought elec­tions now fi­nally over, it’s time to fo­cus on more en­dur­ing themes, like the nat­u­ral world. Take, for ex­am­ple, the woolly bear cater­pil­lar, which, in its mys­te­ri­ous prog­nos­ti­cat­ing pow­ers, proved it­self more re­li­able than many of hu­mankind’s po­lit­i­cal pun­dits and polls.

Nine out of 10 of the woolly bears ran­domly sam­pled on South Poes Road, the Fod­der­stack Road and Route 231 ac­cu­rately pre­dicted the Nov. 6 elec­tion re­sults.

As for pre­dict­ing the com­ing win­ter’s weather, how­ever, the woolly bear seems to be less pre­cise – more faith- than fact-based. The rea­son for this is sim­ple:

Un­like hu­man can­di­dates for po­lit­i­cal of­fice, the woolly bear can­not shape-shift and spin its mes­sage ac­cord­ing to the lat­est polling data and what it thinks its au­di­ence wants to hear. The woolly bear is firmly com­mit­ted to the width of its black and brown bands be­fore au­tumn, much less win­ter, even starts.

So when woolly bears try to uti­lize their own folk­lore to un­der­stand hu­man be­hav­ior and what that means for the nat­u­ral world, alas, it’s too late to com­mu­ni­cate this in­for­ma­tion though the al­ready-set width of their bands. The data points that the woolly bear re­lies upon – cli­mate-change-deny­ing sci­en­tists agree – are how big its hu­man neigh­bors’ wood piles are and, for more so­phis­ti­cated cater­pil­lars, the price of heat­ing oil on the com­mod­ity fu­tures ex­change.

Into this in­tri­cate feed­back loop be­tween woolly bears and hu­mans comes a new, dis­turb­ing and dan­ger­ous el­e­ment, how­ever: “The War on Woolly Bears,” as talk ra­dio is call­ing it. Un­like lib­er­als’ so-called “War on Christ­mas” or Republican­s’ so-called “War on Women,” it in­volves a con­spir­acy the­ory that I’m not yet smart enough to fig­ure out. But if I ever do, I’ll share the wis­dom.

In the mean­time, I’m go­ing for a hike in the Shenan­doah Na­tional Park. There’ll be no woolly bears there; they’re all squashed by cars and trucks on Rap­pa­han­nock roads.

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