Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Mistakes Can Be Beautiful
We have moved to a house that is surrounded by Monterey pines. These are lovely trees, tall, imposing, thick bark like tire treads. Squirrels love them. Birds love them, hawks able to use the highest branches as perches. I am sure there are whole colonies of ants and beetles and other creatures using the trees--true ecosystems. The problem is, Monterey pines don't belong in Oakland, California. They are native to, well, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo. But here in the hills--and there were many Monterey Pines in Orinda where I grew up--they aren't native and it shows. For one, they are being infected with a tree fungus. You can't miss a Monterey pine with the fungus--it looks like it went in for a red dye job. It's a terrible thing, this fungus, but the higher heat away from the coast has aided and abetted it.
Furthermore, Monterey pines aren't great to have around houses. They have this tendency to drop branches--and the branches are big, the tree is tall, and there you have it--a hole in your roof. Moreover, Monterey pines fall. And they are big. When they fall, you feel it. Right on your roof. Hopefully, you make it out of the house.
Also in the Oakland hills are eucalyptus. Stands and stands of it. When I run, I have to avoid the slippery sides of bark, the little knobby seed pods. They like to drop branches, too. Check out any roadside in these hills, and you see a eucalyptus clinging for life at the side, usually leaning against a powerpole. We know the story of the ill-fated lumber man who thought eucalyptus would be his salvation. Wrong. But now it's too late--it's everywhere.
So you'd think I'd be an anti-native plant person. Anti non-native anything. You'd think I'd rue the day when the slightly romantic and potentially addled Eugene Scheffland, who wanted to bring to the U.S. all of the birds mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare, let loose his first bird. His worst mistake was the starling, which now blankets parts of the east and mid-west with bird droppings, the flocks enormous. Once I took a starling to the wonderful animal hospital I wrote about earlier, and was told they didn't take non-natives (the clerk took the bird home herself to nurse it!)
But here's what I really think about (after I stop worrying about trees killing me). I think of the earth as it was before we arrived on the scenes. As the weather and terrain shifted from geologic forces. Tectonic plates moving, ice ages coming and going, native being reinvented as each shift occurred. Plants thriving and then dying out.
I have photos of Orinda in the 1920's, the year the house I grew up in was built. There is nothing there but hills of golden grass (I'm making up the golden because it's a black and white photograph). By the time I moved in, in the 60's there were native oaks--but also a deodar cedar. Oleander (yikes!). Boston ivy. Juniper. Monterey pines (huge!). These aren't native, but people moved them in.
And how long are we to last? How long will this climate last here, keeping these plants alive? Probably not long.
Yes, humans have made huge human errors. The starling. The rabbit in Australia. There are some terrible mussels in the bay right now. But isn't it "native" to have human carry around their seeds, planting them where they stop? Don't we want the creatures around us that we are used to, have domesticated?
Can't some of these mistakes be beautiful?
We can be smart, be a little more conscious about our choices. We can cut down stands of eucalyptus. But we can also love the cedar tree, the scotch broom. The ivy twirling up the oak (squirrels love it). We can realize that we are only here for a little bit, that the planet makes the choices for us, whether we like it or not.
Jessica Barksdale Inclan
Posted by Jessica Barksdale Inclan at 1:00 AM