Saturday, January 18, 2020

It's How We Roll

If you have to get into a mishap with your automobile on New Year's Eve, I can think of no more adorable way to do it than to get buried in tumbleweeds. It's like facing off against a marshmallow cannon. If you're sitting in your car under thirty feet of tumbleweeds, thoughts and prayers are, for once, an appropriate response. As long as no one chucks out a cigarette butt.

This is what happened to five cars and a semi-truck in Washington. I guess it was something. First you're driving along, then you notice some tumbleweeds rolling across the road, and some more, and at some point you have to slow to a stop, and then there you are under a couple stories of tumbleweeds. You could drive through them but you can't see. You have to call the authorities on your cell phone, and listen to them snorting and hooting at you over at 9-1-1 before they send out the snowplow.

Tumbleweeds have iconic status in the West, and they should, but not necessarily in the way most people think. Here on the range I belong, drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds, the man sings; the lonely dead shrubs bouncing along the prairie say Western Expansion as well as anything else. We relate to them. The world is wide, the sky's the limit, we go where the wind takes us, because we are free.

And on our way let's get rid of those pesky buffaloes and Indians because nothing says freedom like a world scraped clean of buffaloes and Indians. Tell you what, let's get rid of the wolves and grizzlies too. Let's stick a billion non-native cattle out there and obliterate the prairie ecosystem while we're at it, and then let's watch our soil blow away with complete shock and a little reproachful glance at God, who was presumed to be on our side.

Ah, the romance of the tumbling tumbleweeds! They are synonymous with the great frontier, an ancient spectacle, a natural wonder, rolling free since time immemorial!

In Russia.

Well, boy howdy, guess whut? We didn't have any tumbleweeds at all until 1870, a mere 150 years ago, when they arrived in South Dakota in a shipment of flax seeds from Asia. About as long as we've had kitty-cats, I reckon. We think they've been here forever because we get our information from 20th-century cowboy westerns. The first tumbleweed landed somewhere and grew, and died, and snapped off, and began tumbling, releasing a quarter million seeds all by itself. It didn't need much water to germinate but managed to suck up an astonishing amount of it later, to the detriment of the native plants. It's one hell of a weed: it easily colonizes disturbed areas, and, shoot, we've been disturbing areas as fast as we can. I mean, Disturbed Areas Are Us.

Here's a cool tidbit: around the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where the cars were buried on New Year's Eve, the tumbleweeds suck up nuclear waste before tumbling off to new adventures. They try to pulverize them before they tumble, but, hey. Fun!

They're a pest. Someone discovered a fungus from Central Asia that does a number on them, and there's talk of setting that non-native organism loose on the buggers here to see who wins. Can't see any downside to that.

So: there's your icon. Invasive non-native species gains foothold and quickly routs the competition, takes over the landscape, and gobbles up all the resources. It's the Great White Dream. What's not to love?

USA! USA! USA!

24 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, when we decide to wander, we take everything (including the kitchen sink) with us. I just know that, when humans land on Mars they'll be greeted by various kinds of stuff that has sprouted from the unclean robots we've sent. Heck! If we can't keep hospital surgical suites clean enough to stop MROs from infecting us, what makes us think we can clean interplanetary vehicles?

    Russian tumbleweeds are the pits!
    Cop Car

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    1. Yeah, but we only do that so we can find our way back. Plastic straws, bottles, Legos, wrappers...you don't want to get stranded on Mars.

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    2. Well said, Murr. We are a crazy lot.

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  2. Pootie has a cowboy hat! You've made my day :)

    I didn't know about tumbleweeds being an imported weed. Here it's giant hogweed, chain pickerel, white-nose fungus in our bat colonies, and a host of other invasive aliens. Maybe it was just a matter of time before intercontinental travel spread these things, but it hurts anyway.

    Did you mean that the tumbleweeds spread radioactive waste? Gah!

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    1. Apparently they do or can. Yes. I'm sure they've pulverized all of them safely though. Sure.

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  3. I think you have inspired me to write sentimental songs about invasive species. I can see it become a whole new genre! Now I have to think of a style. Country Western seems to lend itself, though.

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    1. "Drifting along with the tumbling kitty-cats..."

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  4. Yeah, but globalism is a good thing...right? Making consumerism and capitalism an invasive species is still supposed to be better than enforcing an (inevitably colonizing) anachronistic nationalism, right? Because, I get so confused anymore. It’s so tricky to be progressive without opening up the whole new can of whatever’s gonna do in the next third generation of humans, if there are any. I mean, if they are recognizably humans, this species that is so prone to stuff like nearly wiping out wolves and domesticating the remainder until everybody and their cat has a therapy dog. Oh, golly, but it’s complicated.

    Once we get rid of Trump, we’ve got some serious thinking to do about what constitutes progress at this juncture. See what you started with your tumbleweeds?

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  5. Oh dear. At times like this you may want to consider providing a bit more basic background for us Travel-Impaired East Coasters. You see, I was sure that tumbleweed was found *only* in Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and the desert areas of Southern California. So now I have to wrap my head around the idea that it can be found in the Great Northwest, too? And that it is a non-native species? Goodness, I heard that and immediately thought of our President's condemnation of 'sanctuary cities', until I remembered that we're all non-native species. But then I got confused because someone told me that even the 'American Indians' had come from somewhere else, back when there were still isthmuses (or isthmi) to scamper across to get from Russia to Sarah Palin's backyard.
    And then you sneaked in layers of political analogy that got me all depressed about humans' inability to refrain from basically pooping where we live. Dad Downs would say, "Y'a don't foul the nest", which is what I learned in Boy Scouts, but the concept didn't gain any currency until Martha Khan gleefully skipped school on April 22, 1970, and participated in the first Earth Day.
    You see what your bog posts trigger in our minds? You see what happens when you stay in touch with friends from practically childhood?

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    1. Wait a minute! I also participated in the first Earth Day, I thought--was it on a school day? I distinctly remember either walking to Georgetown across the Chain Bridge barefoot, OR taking the bus with some friends and loading up the coin slot with pennies to "mess with the Man," giving no thought to the benefit of mass transit. Yeah. Distinctly remember one of those two things.

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    2. I keep confusing the Geophysical Year we had in the 1950s with the later-launched Earth Day. I think it was an evolution.
      Cop Car

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  6. Some of us are a mite concerned about which invasives might get a foothold after the fires in this country.Not sure we can handle more weeds AND ScoMo...

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  7. The fungus may obliterate the tumble weed, but then it will look around for something else to live on and may in turn become a problem that needs fixing.

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    1. Well, this is where I was going. I wonder if there will be anything left that stays where it belongs?

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    2. On this, the 100th anniversary of another exercise in Unintended Consequences (Prohibition), that was my exact thought as well.

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  8. We had for years a huge flat-bottomed tumbleweed atop our fridge ala David Lynch's Eraserhead-we have high ceilings. I thought of merchandising local prime specimens, shipped off to NYC Loft entryways...Celebrate all us invasive species !

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    1. My sister weaves Tumbleweed Leashes. I don't know if she ever sold any. First thing I thought of here was "that would keep Tater cat off the fridge..."

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  9. I bet we could get some kudzu to smother it...

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