Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Can invasive species be naturalized?

I've mentioned on these pages that I grew up in New England. Many New England communities and families that I knew or knew of have the perspective that, if your family hasn't lived "there" for several generations, you're "newcomers." Then again, the pattern of European colonists in North America certainly seems to fit that of an invasive species, spreading rapidly and outcompeting indigenous species for habitat and other resources. In fact, if you consider what we think is the origin and distribution of Homo sapiens, some could argue that at the geologic or cosmic scale of things, good old "Homo" has been an invasive species at least since we left Africa. Closer to home, I was startled last Summer to discover that several of the "beautiful" roadside plants I had been admiring were classified as invasive.

dames rocket along a roadside
dames rocket along a roadside
Photo by J. Harrington

There has been much ado in recent years about colony collapse disorder (CCD) and neonicotinoids and the potential loss of all of our honey bees, a nonnative species. Of course, as an interesting side note, many commercial honey bee operations are needed to pollinate almond trees in California, and those same almond trees consume huge quantities of water every year. You know, in California, where they're suffering a monumental drought, 10% of their water goes to almond tree farming. All of this raises some interesting points about definitions, priorities and unintended consequences, to say nothing of the wisdom and foresight usually displayed by our species. These issues are also why I've come to believe that we need to pay much more attention to biomimicry if we really intend to take care of the only planet we have. That brings us to Robin Wall Kimmerer's creative solution, promised yesterday, to the issue of "becoming native." On pages 214 and 215 of Braiding Sweetgrass, she writes our task may be:
"... to strive to become naturalized to place, to throw off the mindset of the immigrant. Being naturalized to place means to live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and fill your spirit…. To become naturalized is to live as if your children's future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do. [emphasis added]
Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) classified as invasive
Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) classified as invasive
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm going to spend time pondering and writing about what I think it means to become native or naturalized. I am a transplant from New England. Am I indigenous to New England but not to Minnesota? What about North America? How many generations does it take to claim the birthright word? While I'm at it, I also want to consider changing my categorization from "consumer" to "citizen and producer." All of this I expect to affect how I see the world and act toward it, and, if the authors I've been reading for years are correct, I expect those changes to benefit both me and the world. I think that's called interdependence. There may even be some contemplation about when, if ever, an invasive species provides a benefit. After all, we wouldn't be here if it weren't for some long ago blue-green algae that started photosynthesizing. If any of these threads of thought are of interest to you, please come along as we ponder these questions from time to time.

A Vagabond

By James Tate 

A vagabond is a newcomer
in a heap of trouble.
He’s an eyeball at a peephole
that should be electrocuted.
He’s a leper in a textile mill
and likely to be beheaded, I mean,
given a liverwurst sandwich
on the break by the brook
where the loaves are sliced.
But he oughtn’t meddle
with the powder puffs on the golf links—
they have their own goats to tame,
dirigibles to situate.
He can act like an imbecile
if the climate is propitious,
a magnate of kidnap
paradising around the oily depot,
or a speck from a distant nebula
wishing to purchase a certain skyscraper ....

Well, if it’s permitted, then
let’s regulate him, let’s testify
against his thimble, and moderate his gloves
before they sew an apron.

The local minister is thinking
of moving to Holland, exchanging
his old ballads for some lingerie.
“Zatso!” says the vagabond.
Homeless, like wheat that tattletales
on the sermon, like wages swigged.
“Zatso, zatso, zatso!” cries the vagabond.
The minister reels under the weight
of his thumbs, the vagabond seems to have
jutted into his kernel, disturbed
his terminal core. Slowly, and with
trifling dignity, the minister removes
from his lapel his last campaign button:
Don’t Mess with Raymond, New Hampshire.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.