My Great Aunt Elsie said it: “There’s always something to take the joy out of living.” I never knew her, but my Mom repeated the saying quite often. I don’t think she was referring to the really big tragedies, death, divorce, disability, but common place miseries, a leaky roof, a failed crop, a body’s aches and pains - and weeds. For Mom and Dad, it was their twin nemeses, quack grass and gophers. Mom was a fastidious gardener and quack was always lurking at her shoulder, ready to invade her beauty spots. Dad was a farmer and rancher, so gopher hills in the hay crop were a constant annoyance.
Mark cusses gophers and I battle quack grass, but their threats pale compared to the hardy invasives pounding on the door to our ranch in the twenty-first century. Houndstongue, burdock, puncturevine, knapweed and musk thistle top our list.
I picked up 1,000 tiny gall wasps from the local weed supervisor to put on Russian knapweed. The bug isn’t proven yet, but the hope is that it weakens the weed allowing other plants to compete and bring balance back into an ecosystem. The fly lays eggs on the plant, and a gall forms around the larvae. It’s not a quick fix, but offers hope over time.
So we’ve added biocontrol to our list of weapons: mowing, spraying, cutting with a shovel, grazing, mulching, and, I might add, coexisting, which in the end might be our only option.
We visited our mountain property to cut houndstongue and check fences. The diversity of life made me so happy! Butterflies flitting about and a constant hum of insects greeted us. Golden cinquefoil and pink veined sticky geranium dominate the wildflower scene with lupine, potentilla, buckwheat, and the delicate violets and blues of penstemon rounding out the colorful meadows and sagebrush uplands.
A nighthawk screeched above us, dive bombing and booming for our benefit. We found a nest of baby doves and lay spots in the deep grass where deer had spent time. We saw a dozen cow elk and their calves. And the morning was filled with birdsong. A wren had nested under the eve of the cabin and we watched a tree swallow sort through debris to shore up his nest.
And the grass! Mark said he’d roll in it if his nose could stand it.
So, yes, we cut a million houndstongue burrs, but we soaked in all the rest of it. All the strange and wonderful organisms that call our mountain ground home.
It’s kind of like this blog. I look over and past the messy parts, to see the joy in the expanse around me. Or move aside an annoyance and look really close, to the delicate folds of a penstemon blossom.
And Mark? He’s a guy and all about cows. He gets excited about wildlife and can spot houndstongue almost as good as me, but he kept saying over and over, “have I told you how happy I am that the fence is hot?”
|Mark found the mourning doves|
|sticky geranium, buckwheat and lupine|
|gall wasp flies|
|the villainous Russian knapweed|