mountain pine beetle treatments

Photo by Forest Service Northern Region under Creative Commons on flickr, with description:

“Spraying Ponderosa Pine with Carbaryl in May, 2011 in Bitterroot National Forest Campgrounds to prevent Mountain Pine beetle damage. Contractor sprays entire bole of tree to 50 feet high. Carbaryl is a pesticide (Sevin).”

More information on the beetle and the epidemic.

I wrote this descriptive, generalized paper while I was in prison at PeWee Valley (KCIW), for a night Biology class, offered through the college JCTC. While I have a degree in Biology, it had been 30 years since I had taken an introductory course, so I enrolled in this class on “canteen scholarship.” It was taught by a Kentucky Department of Transportation worker who was in charge of managing the side of the roads. This is a huge job. The strips bordering the roads can mean the difference between life and death for travelers, because vines such as the pernicious kudzu can block views. Also, the instructor spoke at length about the multi-million dollar cleanup effort that Kentucky faced, after the ice storm. After his work during the day, the instructor continued in God’s work by donating his teaching to the college and to the prison inmates. It was one of the most delightful classes I have ever taken.

Unfortunately, the prison eliminated education to nonviolent Class D offenders and, in the interest of money, shipped these inmates back into the jails, where there was no hope of college education or treatment of any kind.

Because of my unusually long eight year sentence, I was not transferred with the other Class D inmates. This placed me into a Class C sort of category, and I “grandfathered in” to continue my schooling. I am thankful.

This paper is edited for this site, and I would like to hat tip my nephew Ray, who lives and works in Vail. He was a volunteer in the effort to control the epidemic, and he helped me with some articles, because I had no internet access in the prison. Ray, thank you.


A mountain Pine Beetle, by WBUR under Creative Commons, attribution, noncommercial, nonderivative on flickr.

The Pine Beetle And Its Life Cycle

The Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB), Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins, is an insect of the largest animal Order, Order Coleoptera (beetles). Its life cycle consists of four complete metamorphic stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The life cycle lasts about a year, and is completed almost entirely under the bark of host evergreen trees that include ponderosa, sugar and whitepines (major), as well as limber, coulter, foxtail, whitebark, pinyon, bristlecone and Scotch pine.

The MPB larvae are parasitic herbivores with biting and chewing mouthparts; most tree damage occurs during the 10-month-long larval stage.-snip-White legless larvae feed on the host phloem tissue from August of one year to June of the next year. Fattened larvae then excavate additional cells for the pupa stage, which lasts about a month. Adults then eat and burrow an exit to the surface, whereupon they fly, sometimes as far as six miles, to neighboring tree stands, where the cycle is repeated. During this flight, often helped by winds, females secrete male-attracting pheromones, bringing more beetles and concentrating attack numbers.

The Trees And Their Life Cycle

Pine trees are gymnosperms (meaning that their seeds are not contained in fruit) that evolved long before flowering plants. A pine contains both male and female gametophytes, a tree’s equivalent to sperm and egg. Female pine cones are fertilized by small male cone pollen. An embryo encased in a seed coat develops, and is dispersed by wind or by animals.

Pine trees extract water from the soil and pull it upward, against gravity, in the xylem tissue, through transpiration- a tree’s equivalent to sweating. Photosynthesis in the needles utilizes sunlight to convert CO2 and water into sugar and oxygen. This process utilizes chlorophyll, a green molecule that is similar in structure to animal hemoglobin. Sugar then moves, in solution, from the needles to other tree parts that require energy, by way of the phloem.

Since sap-containing phloem cells contain sugar, they are a good beetle food source. When osmotic water flows into high-sugar-concentrated resin-filled cells and tissues, a balanced hydrostatic gradient is established. In healthy trees, a copious flow of sap can actually “pitch out” a beetle attack, such that the beetles drown in the pitch. The tree must not, however, be in a state of stress in order to mount this important defense.

I am presenting this in parts, because I believe the entire discussion is too lengthy for the internet.

Next: Endemic versus epidemic and conditions that favor epidemic, and the role of fire.

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a nonfiction account of incarceration in Kentucky, first in jails and then in prison, during 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Inmate names are changed, except nicknames that do not reveal identity.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

I also post Frog Gravy at in the MyFDL diary section.

McCracken County Jail, Cell 107, sometime in February, 2008


Horse. Jail art by Crane-Station on flickr. Colored pencil, magazine ink.

On the way out of visiting, I stop in the booking area to wait for a guard to take me back to the cell. On the wall in this area is posted a laundry list of jailhouse offenses that can get us more time than we already have. I scan the list. Then I see an address in Frankfort for grievances.

My hand flies to my pocket, and I fumble for a no-shank pen and paper. I jot only crucial numbers, street names. I commit the zip code to memory, quickly.

The guard approaches and says, “What are you doing?”


“Are you writing the address to Frankfort?”


“They don’t do nuthin’ for you.”

“I want to get to PeWee as soon as possible.” (PeWee, or KCIW is the penitentiary for women in the Louisville area)

“I mean, even if you work for them they won’t do nuthin. C’mon now, let’s go.”

“…next bus. PeWee…”

“PeWee? You been final sentenced?”


I think the guard was concerned that I might write a grievance to Frankfort, explaining some of the jail conditions. Which is exactly what I do. There is absolutely nothing else to do, in fact, but write Frankfort. I write everything down, names, times, dates, events, including the pregnancy disaster, and run it all in to Frankfort.

In the cell, back in my own insanity, I fix the towel back onto my head. I find myself in a very unusual situation. I am all alone in the cell. And I have tobacco. And a lighter.

I am so gonna smoke.

In honor of one of the religious in-cell handouts that pictures a multi-headed beast and labels it “The beast of Revelation 13:1-10 symbolizes the papacy,” I have chosen, from a pocket-sized book of rolling papers labeled “The New Testament” and placed in plain view on the windowsill, a page from St. John’s Revelation, to roll the tobacco in and smoke it.

The Beast of Revelation

I am seated at the steel table alone, with a towel on my head, surrounded by notes, papers, and origami cranes. Some of my notes are just random, the sort of thing that an insane, entombed person might write:

“Purest of gold walks through the hottest of fires.”


“Israelites’ journey in the desert has to do with poisonous snakes, their bite caused death. People complained to God. He told Moses to fashion a bronze snake- anyone bitten who looked at it would be cured. Modern symbol of medicine.”

I scan the hallway for traffic as though I am about to rob a bank, and seeing no one, I flick the lighter. Nothing happens. Flick flick click click flick click fuck FUCK.

My memory banks kick in. I recall bits of some early conversations in the cell about how to light things.

“…two double A batteries on a steel table and…”

Nope. No batteries.

“…ghost lighting. Guys do it all the time. Just roll the lighter backward….”

Here I sit, in an orange jail suit with a towel on my head, trying to roll a lighter backward on a steel table to create a spark, only the little roller thingies are stuck and they don’t even roll, forward or backward. I hold the lighter up to the light, turn it upside down and focus. There is no fluid in this lighter.

This is starting to suck.

“…pop the socket. Just take a piece of foil, or metal, hold it with tissue, stick it in the socket, and it creates a spark….”

I am a madman. By miracle, I find a paper clip and straighten it out.

“…or you can unplug the TV a little, then touch metal to the metal on the TV cord. See how the TV plug is damaged? Some jails paint the plate but not this one…”

Just about the time the TV wall socket plate parallaxes into my insane view and I begin to formulate a plan, the steel door opens and in walks Ruthie.

I look like the cat that ate the canary. She says, “What are you doing?”

I spit out a canary feather, adjust the towel and ask, “Do you have any idea how to pop the socket? Because if you do, I’ll share this with you.”

Ruthie is beside herself with giddy excitement. “Hell yeah I know how to pop the socket I seen it before! Hahahahahaaa, we gonna smoke!” She runs to her bunk, gets a cup, then goes to the toilet and fills the cup with water, brings the cup to the steel table, sets it down, and says, “Here. You’ll need this.” She also produces a length of toilet tissue and says, “and this. You’ll need this too.”

I ask a question that made sense at the time: “What do you do with the water? I mean, I don’t really think it mixes too well with electricity.”

“Yeah,” says Ruthie (I swear to God), you wrap the paper clip in tissue, then dip it in the water, and then jam the wet part into the socket.”

I think I am actually living inside of a Roadrunner cartoon, where there is always something that you want but cannot get, so you are always hungry and pissed off, and in the end there is always an explosion where you die and everyone laughs. The steel door opens again. In walks Christie and Tina. Christie says, “What are you guys doing?”

“We were just about to pop the socket.”

“God dammit, I thought you were smarter than that! Y’all are going to kill yourselves!” says Christie.

“Don’t ever use God’s name like that again,” snaps Tina.

“Yeah, Christie. Use motherfucker instead. It’s more polite.”

“I can’t believe you guys,” she says.

“Well, quit runnin your dick sucker and show us how to do this right, then,” I say, “Before two more people walk in and then we gotta share this thing with six people. This is not a six-people cigarette. And I’m not cutting it with banana peels again, so don’t even go there.”

“Okay,” she says. “But keep the water. You’ll need it.”

“What for?”

“The explosion.”

“What explosion?”

Christie addresses me as if I am a child. “When you pop the socket, it creates a huge spark. You catch it on a Maxipad. The pad catches fire. You will need the water to put the fire out.”

“You cannot possibly be serious.”

She is.

“And stick that paper clip into a plastic no-shank pen sleeve,” she adds.

We partially unplug the TV, lay the clip across the prongs and there is, quite literally, a huge popping sound, a spark, and a Maxipad fire.

But there is more. We have knocked out the television to all of the cells in the hallway for the entire weekend and, of course since everyone knows who the idiots were, the guards were not at all amused, so they just went ahead and left our TV off for, like ten days.

The yells start coming: “MotherFUCKER!!”

And Harry, down the hall in his isolation cell, “Let me out! Helpmehelpmehelpme HELP!”

While the TV is off and I am coming up with insane plans because there is nothing else to do, I decide that a TV show called, “How To Survive Jail Hellhole.” Today we will discuss all of the uses for toothpaste, tomorrow, we will make dominoes out of toilet paper, and the next day we will be popping the socket.

I do this all the time. That guy flying out of the window? That’s me.

Barn During Storm by Crane-Station on flickr (jail art)

Barn during storm by Crane-Station on flickr. Jail art, magazine ink, ink and colored pencil.

Author’s note: Frog Gravy is a depiction of daily life during incarceration in Kentucky, in 2008 and 2009, and is reconstructed from my notes.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language.

Names are changed, except for mine, which is clear in the documents below, and the social worker’s, also clear.

PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, near Louisville, KY, 3-18-09, with a note about some animals on the grounds, penned on various dates and consolidated.

Before I enrolled in school, I worked recycle, breaking down cardboard boxes from the prison commissary, with a very shy woman named Roxi, who had the misfortune of being present in a home, when her boyfriend decapitated someone.

From our work area, we can see the large dining hall and the back entrance to the kitchen.

One day at work, I noticed a large, well-fed possum wander out of the kitchen area, where there is also a sewer, weave his way drunkenly led by pink snout, to the dumpster.

“You see Bob?” said Roxi.


“We done named him Bob. The possum.”

“Oh! He is so cute!”

“Yup. And we done fed him. A hot dog and a bologna sandwich.”

I look at Bob and think, well I’ll bet he never wants for anything.

If this weren’t real, it would be funny.

There were also a couple of prison calico cats that the inmates loved to feed and take care of, even though this was technically not allowed.

And then there was the baby bird that I was keeping warm and nursing back to health.

At the time I did not know any of this, but the prison staff would eventually kill Bob as well as the cats. They would ship Roxi, without notice to Otter Creek the private women’s prison, in Eastern Kentucky, a place where, according to some, “Lizards don’t even live in the yard.”

A guard will stomp my baby bird to death in front of me and then wipe the gore onto the pavement next to me, laughing.

If there is a place in hell…

Underground Education

I enroll in the Horticulture program, and immediately involve myself in the business of tutoring others, not in Horticulture, but in math, English, and Biology. I enjoy teaching because it is rewarding and sort of akin to clinical psychology.

Cricket never learned her times tables, but she wants to prepare for her GED, and so she asks for my help She is a mother of three small children, and when she got convicted, her hair fell out. She shows me some ‘before’ pictures. She does not have cancer, and doctors say it is not true alopecia either, because she still has eyebrows. Other inmates that live with her vouch that she is not pulling her own hair out.

Inmates are not allowed to teach.

My path crosses another inmate, Daffy, who also loves to teach, albeit under threat of the hole (or cell block, as it is called here) and we discuss strategy. My contraband teaching is difficult to prosecute, because, hey we were just studying together, right?

Daffy, however, who has a Master’s in Theology, has a following of inmates that are interested in learning more about Catholicism.

Daffy’s mother was Jewish, but she was raised Pentecostal, and later converted to Catholicism on her own. Her grandmother raised her on English literature.

We discuss our dilemma on the ball field.

Daffy says, “If someone just happens to find themselves out here on the ball field during recreation, say Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and they wish to join a few others…”

“For a discussion,” I add, “What’s to stop them? I mean they can discuss anything they want to, right?”

Contraband teaching. The truth is stranger than fiction.

One day, it all ends.

Cricket comes to me, in tears, and says, “I don’t need your help any more. They’ve done eliminated the GED classes.”

Others report the same thing. I make an appointment with my case worker and ‘out’ myself.

“What in the god damn,” I say. Some of the people I tutor are telling me that classes have been eliminated.”

“Thant’s right. The jails are complaining that they are not getting enough money because you guys are taking it all. Class D education is being eliminated; looks like inmates will be shipped back to the jails. I just wiped out an entire Life Without a Crutch class.”

My caseworker examines his computer screen.

“But Life Without a Crutch is a drug treatment class,” I say. “A good one, and most Class D’s are non-violent drug offenders.”

“I know.”

“There aren’t any educational programs at all in the jails, unless it is SAP (Substance Abuse Program) and you have to be a Class C (serving ten years or more for crimes such as trafficking and not simple possession) to even get into SAP!”

“I know.”

And so it goes. Inmates that were trying to do something, anything, to improve things with education and treatment were kicked out of school and out of treatment, in the name of money.

No educational materials allowed by Crane-Station on flickr

No educational materials allowed. This is a jail kite to the social worker in the McCracken County jail, requesting educational books. The request is denied.

No educational materials allowed by Crane-Station on flickr

A second request for educational materials is also denied by the social worker.

Author’s end note: I do not know the status of the programs today.

Frog Gravy posts are also at Firedoglakecom in the MyFDL diaries.