The Mad Scramble
This is the time of year when you can make your yard look pretty great for a few illusory weeks. You clear the weeds out of the beds, put down mulch, mow, edge, trim, and begin to imagine that perhaps your yard will one day look "manicured," like a rich person's yard. This is a case of monstrous self-deception. By the beginning of June the weeds and vines will be limbering up for the riot of summer. By the first of July your yard will look like a hippie's idea of Nature. Your yard will look like an advertisement for a society that doesn't discriminate against plants that are alleged to be "weeds." You yard will have a slogan: Down With Weedism. By the first of August it will be clear that all plants are not created equal, because the plants unfairly alleged to be "weeds" grow much, much better than the one that are not alleged to be "weeds." By the first of September these pernicious plants will have invaded the house. You'll wake in the night as a wild grape tries to drag you out of the bed. We've lost several cats to crab grass -- poor things were just torn limb from limb.
But gosh in May the yard looks good!
My neighbor Angus, a filmmaker who just won an Emmy, told me the other day that my flower beds need sharper boundaries. My lawn sort of nuzzles up against the flower beds and in many places actually invades them. I like flow, gradualism, soft edges, but probably Angus is right. And this brings up, if I may be permitted an amazingly deft transition, Tom's latest dumb question (see previous item), about 1492 and whatnot. Although we tell history from the standpoint of human events (wars, discoveries, etc.), from a global perspective the biggest news of the past 500 years may be that we've scrambled the biology of the planet. Think about a stunning fact: Life has been on Earth for something like 3.5 billion years, maybe a bit longer. Geological barriers created niche environments where life has evolved into untold millions of species. Life could always count on sharp boundaries, geologically. That's why 1492 led to a human catastrophe: the ocean had served as an insulating barrier between organisms, and when that barrier was breached, indigenous people in the Americas had no immunity to the microbes carried by Europeans (Jared Diamond explains all this in Guns, Germs and Steel). Today we have shrunk the planet and eliminated the geological barriers. It's an elaborate biological experiment. This mad scramble of biology has mundane consequences (invasive weeds in my yard) and tragic ones (AIDS, SARS, new strains of influenza), but ultimately we don't know how it will turn out. If we ever got a message beamed to us from some advanced alien civilization, it might say, "Maintain sharp boundaries."
Recently a NASA scientist told me that a problem with exploring Mars is that it may have life, right now, in subsurface aquifers. We don't want to carry Earthlife to Mars and contaminate that environment, nor do we want to bring Martian life back to Earth. That's a lesson from 1492.
Life is beautiful, but dangerous.
Tonight I'll work on those flower beds, sharpening up the edges. The least I can do to save the world.
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