Friday, June 9, 2017

"Invasive" #phenology

The "hilltop" behind the house has developed a purple tinge, as more and more hairy vetch comes into bloom. Birdsfoot trefoil and ox-eye daisy blooms are erupting all along the roadsides. Invasive plants seem more noticeable than natives in many locations these days.

a field of "invasive" ox-eye daisies and birdsfoot trefoil
a field of "invasive" ox-eye daisies and birdsfoot trefoil
Photo by J. Harrington

Did you know that there's an online report of the numbers of invasive species, by county, in Minnesota? According to the number of reported instances, birdsfoot trefoil ranks eleventh, just ahead of ox-eye daisies. Kentucky bluegrass ranks fairly high in the listing of widespread invasives. It seems to me that, perhaps, we might want to make further distinctions among categories of "invasive" species. There's a strong case that can be made that the early Vikings, Spaniards and English were invasive species in North America. But then, if hominids originated in Africa and spread from there, wouldn't that make homo sapiens invasive over most of the earth? Then again, the continents, as we know them today, have evolved from common ancestors or predecessors.

I'm not suggesting we ignore invasive species. I do think we need to be much clearer in our use of terms and actions. Minnesota DNR has a very limited definition of invasive species, especially when compared to the United States Department of Agriculture's classifications or categories, as listed at the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Connecticut web page.

could dame's rocket support monarchs until milkweed blooms?
could dame's rocket support monarchs until milkweed blooms?
Photo by J. Harrington

As we get further into the Anthropocene, we also need to look more carefully at human modifications of habitat that foster, support, necessitate the adaptation of species and the coevolution of new habitats as well as the extinction of existing species. Which invasive species should be held accountable for the potential extinction of the polar bear? Which native species is devestating the white rhino?

How much trouble are we likely to create for ourselves if we measure everything in terms of present utility to humans, since none of us know what the future holds for unintended consequences of the creatures for whom the current geologic age may be named, or even if there will be enough of a future to make that question worthwhile for humans to ponder? Selective attention to the identification of invasive species, without understanding the roles of those species relative to the "natives" they're displacing, doesn't seem like the wisest ecosystem management approach. Locally, dame's rocket blooms well before common milk weed. Could that help the monarch butterfly population in our area?

Native Memory



River was my first word
after mama.
I grew up with the names of rivers
on my tongue: the Coosa,
the Tallapoosa, the Black Warrior;
the sound of their names
as native to me as my own.

I walked barefoot along the brow of Lookout Mountain
with my father, where the Little River
carves its name through the canyons
of sandstone and shale
above Shinbone Valley;
where the Cherokee
stood on these same stones
and cast their voices into the canyon below.

You are here, a red arrow
on the atlas tells me
at the edge of the bluff
where young fools have carved their initials
into giant oaks
and spray painted their names and dates
on the canyon rocks,
where human history is no more
than a layer of stardust, thin
as the fingernail of god.

What the canyon holds in its hands:
an old language spoken into the pines
and carried downstream
on wind and time, vanishing
like footprints in ash.
The mountain holds their sorrow
in the marrow of its bones.
The body remembers
the scars of massacres,
how the hawk ached to see
family after family
dragged by the roots
from the land of their fathers.

Someone survived to remember
beyond the weight of wagons and their thousands
of feet cutting a deep trail of grief.
Someone survived to tell the story of this
sorrow and where they left their homes
and how the trees wept to see them go
and where they crossed the river
and where they whispered a prayer into their grandmother’s eyes
before she died
and where it was along the road they buried her
and where the oak stood whose roots
grew around her bones
and where it was that the wild persimmons grow
and what it was she last said to her children
and which child was to keep her memory alive
and which child was to keep the language alive
and weave the stories of this journey into song
and when were the seasons of singing
and what were the stories that go with the seasons
that tell how to work and when to pray
that tell when to dance and who made the day.

You are here
where bloodlines and rivers
are woven together.
I followed the river until I forgot my name
and came here to the mouth of the canyon
to swim in the rain and remember
this, the most indigenous joy I know:
to wade into the river naked
among the moss and stones,
to drink water from my hands
and be alive in the river, the river saying,
You are here,
a daughter of stardust and time.


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