A few months ago, I was admiring the sunflowers popping up in the neighborhood.
Today, it's thistle that catches my eye.
Their large, round, spiked buds shine bright pink and purple in the afternoon sunlight. Some reach upward no less than 4 feet on a tubular, jagged stalk.
My Darling Wife loves them. When I told her that I was going to trim our little patch of lawn the other day, she asked, "Why?"
Because it needs to be cut, I said.
"Okay, but don't cut the wildflowers." Apparently, she thinks some of the scraggly, odd-shaped weeds growing around the FEMA travel trailer are actually pretty. Not knowing much about plants and gardening, I made her come outside and point out what she wanted to keep just to be safe.
She pointed to a tall, ominous looking plant sprouting near the steps; a thistle that had not yet bloomed.
Gardening Factoid: There is no biological designation for a "weed." A weed is simply a plant you don't like that shows up in your garden uninvited. If for some reason you DO like it, it's not a weed--it's a "volunteer."
So being the fine husband I am, I carefully cut around the volunteer and complained about it profusely.
Thistle (I learned after I looked it up on Wikipedia) come in several varieties. Ours is probably a Milk Thistle. The Wiki folks describe its prickles as "an adaptation protecting against herbivorous animals." I don't know about that, but speaking as an omnivore I can assure you I was not even slightly tempted to eat it.
There were several other scraggly, climbing and spreading imposters that I was told to leave alone. The current environment in this damaged city seems to favor the wildest of weeds (or volunteers) over the nice grasses we usually would have had before the waters came. The brown that dominated following Hurricane Katrina is quickly being overrun with green.
And we continue our love/hate relationship with nature here.
The city of New Orleans considers unkempt lawns a sign of dereliction and is starting to enforce what is called a “Good Neighbor” ordinance. It’s a law that requires homeowners, whether here or there, to maintain their empty houses and properties. In the neighborhoods of New Orleans, untamed nature is not to be tolerated.
At the same time The Times-Picayune trumpets the need for us to work with nature, to allow her the space to “do her thing.” We are told that humanity’s desire to control our environment is at the root of all our problems here in coastal Louisiana.
The answer, I think, lies between these two views. I don’t agree that we are helpless and should surrender to the furies of the natural universe. But I also don’t think we should view nature as the enemy at the gates. This is not about mankind versus nature, but of mankind living within nature.
Hurricanes are part of the natural environment of the Gulf of Mexico. And our insatiable appetite to build and shape the human environment is perfectly natural, too. Heck, even the most ardent environmentalists will draw you a picture of what they want the coast to look like--as if nature needs their help to make her vision a reality!
No, I say we ARE nature. I say we have to enact our own adaptations to survive in this environment. We know hurricanes are coming, so we should build a hurricane protection system that incorporates multiple lines of defense, so that one localized failure won’t doom the city. We know hurricanes are coming, so we should build our houses up off the ground and strong enough to withstand the wind.
We will struggle on. It is the nature of nature, you might say. The people who have not left, the people who are coming, we will all make it happen. Our houses will rise over the tangled, tortured landscape.
My Darling Wife and I are finalizing plans for our own high-rise home here. We are going to stake our claim to this land and this city. We are not defying nature; we are working within nature to make our home here.
Around us, other houses are rising. Several new slabs have been poured here, and the homes of the new New Orleans are taking root. Only time will tell if we will be viewed as volunteers or as weeds.
I looked again at that strange thistle, and had to give it credit for its perseverance and tenacity. Looking around at the neighboring vacant properties, I see several more of them scattered about.
They rise defiantly on the vacant land here, growing where some would not approve, reaching where some would not dare.
A few months ago, it was sunflowers, rising up from the damaged landscape.
Now it's thistle, standing tall and warning away enemies with its prickles.