You can’t go home again
ON A HIKE, I overheard bits of a conversation: “non-native, eradicate, alien, threatening, new laws, protect.” I thought these woods should be free of political talk. Just be in nature, people! Then I realized that this was not about the election, Trump or Clinton, but about the very plants we were walking by.
It’s been a year and a half since New York declared war on 126 species of non-humans: plants, fish and snails, clams, bugs, the mute swan, various algae, bacteria and fungus are on the list. No selling, buying or transporting. This is all to slow the harm these invasives might cause by squeezing out the native species and reducing bio-diversity. The cousins of the invasive are the aliens or the non-natives who, at the moment, are not seen as harmful. Most honeybees are aliens, as is Queen Ann’s Lace. The list is long.
Where does this military thinking get us? New York is now divided into regions, each with volunteer invasive hunters. My friend, Linda Rohleder, runs the one in this region. After she spoke recently at Orange County Community College, I ripped out one of several beds of periwinkle. I had a distinct sense of righteousness. I built a wall around my other beds to keep it in or out, I’m not sure.
How far I can take my yard? Pre-periwinkle? (It came over in the 1700s, like many of our families did). Should I try for pre-contact? My yard in 1491. Or pre-glacial? See my problem? It’s a kind of nativism, a “seductive vision of a healing wounded nature and returning it to a stable natural state.” That’s from Emma Marris’ Rambunctious Nature in a Post Wild World. She questions sacred beliefs in environmentalism. She asks us to see what happens if we let go of the romantic ideal of pristine nature and explore what she calls the “eco-industrial vision.” Yes, we have to be alert to invasives, but let’s not get too distracted from the larger, tedious, less visible political issue of development and zoning policies that destroy more ecosystems than alien or invasive plants ever can. DANIEL MACK