The Liquor Store

Every year about this time there is a rather odd event that takes place among my fellow nurserymen. We make a solemn and very serious trip to the liquor store.

The fact that there is a connection between men who grow plants for a living and hard core alcohol is not surprising. The disasters that befall our livelihood and ruin the crops that put food on our tables is enough to drive any man to drink. Though, for some, a disaster is not needed. Trips to the liquor store might be motivated by something as simple as, say, Friday at 5:00.

But when mid-February rolls around and the temperatures start flirting with 70ᵒ, we get nervous. Warm weather means that the little buds on our trees will start swelling. God forbid that leaves should start to break forth. When that happens the dreaded Asian Ambrosia Beetle emerges from its long winter’s nap and swarms of those little buggers start looking for unsuspecting trees. They bore tiny holes in the bark, drilling down inside to lay eggs. Holes by the hundreds, maybe thousands. And trees die.

So, you understand my angst. I’ve always wanted to use the word ‘angst’.

There has been a lot of university research done on these 2.5mm long critters from Hell. Some Biblical scholars think that the Horsemen of the Apocalypse will ride in on them to destroy the world one day.

Evidently, they rode into America about 20 years ago on some wooden crate shipped from someplace like Bangkok that made its way to one of our port cities. From there they found every tree grower south of the Mason Dixon. And according to the PhDs that know these things, there is nothing that will kill them short of smushing them with bricks, which I have considered.

What the scientists have discovered is that we can combat them with alcohol. It works like this. When leaf buds break, some species of trees put off small amounts of ethyl alcohol. The AAB (short technical abbreviation) likes alcohol. At least, it is the attractant that draws him to my trees. Think of Max, my dog, who can smell bacon from three miles away. Buds open and swarms of AAB swoop in for the kill.

So, we try to get ahead of the disaster by making traps out of small pieces of Maple limbs saturated with Golden Grain. We hang these traps, every two hundred feet or so, on the fence that surrounds the farm. The idea is that the AAB would prefer a straight shot of Golden Grain to a punch bowl with just a taste of it. He bores into the traps rather than boring into the trees. Evidently, he is not smart enough to tell the difference between a real tree and a piece of a tree. Why take a hit on a mixed drink when you could throw back on the pure stuff?

Thus, the annual pilgrimage to the liquor store for nurserymen everywhere.

This is not an easy thing. Most of the nurserymen I know are fairly conservative, church going men. A trip to the liquor store can have consequences in small town life. A man has to be careful. Some choose to make the trip at night, under the cover of darkness.

One of my nursery buddies is Baptist. It’s not that Baptist don’t drink, it’s just that Baptist don’t want anyone to know that they drink. He sits in the parking lot at the post office and waits on one of his Methodist friends to come along. He asks him to go down to the liquor store and buy the Golden Grain for him.

I told him one time that he should find him an Episcopalian. They know more about alcohol and probably wouldn’t have to ask the clerk where they keep the Golden Grain. He would already know which shelf and in what corner its kept. Or, a Presbyterian might work just as well.

If there were more Catholics in the south we could just ask one of them and we wouldn’t even need to go to the liquor store. We could go to their house and get it out of the kitchen cabinet, or the open bar down in the basement. I know this because I had friends who were Catholic and spent time around the pool table in their basement.

I always get a kick out of my trip to the liquor store. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been doing this long enough that I know exactly where they keep the Golden Grain. I went yesterday at about 10 in the morning. I’m thinking, “No one goes to the liquor store at 10 in the morning except the hard core folks.” I wondered if anyone saw my truck parked out front.

I always get the same response when I walk up to the counter with two jugs of Golden Grain.

“Somebody’s having a party tonight!”

“No ma’am. No party.”

“Well, what you gonna do with all the Golden Grain? You gonna spike the punch bowl at a wedding?”

“No ma’am. No wedding.”

Curiosity is killing her. “Well, what then?”

Wait for it. “I’m trying to get some bugs drunk at the tree farm.”

The deadpan look and the roll of the eyes are priceless. She has no idea what that means as she says, “That’ll be $36.98”.

We’re making the traps now. Each piece of wood has a ½” hole drilled down about 12 inches in the middle. We’ll fill each one with Golden Grain. Let it soak in, and fill it again. The more the better. The idea really is to get these AABs as drunk as Otis Campbell.

If everything goes well, we’ll save a few hundred trees from the kiss of death.

But one question remains. When spring is over and the traps are taken down and the AAB moves on, what does a nurseryman do with the left over Golden Grain?

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