garlic mustard massacre

Pulling garlic mustard today, I realized that if there are garlic mustard historians or novelists or prophets, they’d describe me as a mass murderer or an angry god. I’m sure I thought of this because I’m reading Paulette Jiles’s The Color of Lightning . The opening chapters describe a violent attack in 1864 by Comanche and Kiowa warriors on the women and children in a small mixed-race settlement in Texas. The events are told from the point of view of the White and Black women who are repeatedly beaten, raped and then enslaved by the tribes. The tale is not one-sided. Other scenes in the book have people talking about violent attacks and treaty-breaking by the White settlers, providing the context for the raids, and as the story unfolds, there are positive images of the family lives of the native people. But because the violence against native people happens off camera, as it were, while the violence by the native people is vividly described from the point of view of the victims, there is an asymmetry in the descriptions in the book, at least so far.* The Black and White women are individual people who suffer, while the Comanches and Kiowas are unknown enemies, or abstractions.

From the book summary and the review I read, it sounds like more conflict and violence is to come, as the Black husband will try to rescue his wife and a pacifist Quaker reformer is coming out to try to make peace with the tribes. The book is well grounded in the reality of the history, so a happy ending all around seems unlikely. This conflict is like so many. There are the depersonalized political historical forces, in this case European invaders attacking and displacing native people and native people fighting back. And there is violence and pain at a personal level on all sides. The reality of the personal suffering, or the reality of the joy of overcoming adversity and establishing a new settlement, are etched into consciousness and passed down to generations, creating fundamentally antagonistic ways of understanding the past.

So, having read the flyers from the Department of Natural Resources,  I view the garlic mustard as the invader, as a powerful invasive species that must be beaten back or it will take over and destroy all the other “good” plants. I’m playing God, deciding which plants will live and which plants will die in my yard, just as humans for millennia have decided which plants to nurture and which to weed out. From the point of view of the garlic mustard, this is just a massacre. The innocent plants were not doing anything to hurt me. I seek out and destroy all the plants I can find, even the little baby ones, and from the point of view of the garlic mustard, this is as bad as the White settlers in the Americas and Australia and South Africa killing the native people for sport. I think about this. All living organisms affect the lives of other organisms, helping some to live and damaging others. As animals, we must eat other living organisms to survive. As humans, we know that what is good for some of us may hurt others. As a White American, I know that the United States was founded on the destruction and enslavement of other people, and that I would not be here or have this house and this yard without the destruction of someone else’s way of life. But even members of groups who have been oppressed have to face the same reality: the things that benefit them often hurt other people. Some people react to this reality with a fearful or hostile “kill or be killed” mentality. I don’t. I still seek to live in peace and justice with all of life and all of humanity. But I know it is complicated. I  live with those contradictions as I seek to eradicate the garlic mustard.

* The review suggests that there will be other points of view to come.

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invasive species

There was a lot more interest than I would have expected in my brief mention of my problem figuring out what to do with five bags of garlic mustard. The update is that I put off dealing with the problem while I finished grading, and then the bags started to leak. Most of it turned into a disgusting slime. I spread the mess out on the patio to dry. Of course it started raining an hour later. At least the rain washed off a lot of the slime. In the past two days, I picked out more second year garlic mustard that had been hiding among the violets, and realized there is a carpet of first year plants to dig out. I think I’ll be spending much of my sabbatical doing this.

You may think that weeding means I’m gardener. Nope. I have a brown thumb. The only gardening activities I am good at are destructive: mowing, weeding, and digging up bushes that are blocking the walk. Everything I’ve planted or paid someone else to plant has turned out to be a mistake: it either died or proved to be the wrong plant in the wrong place. We have the scrappiest yard on the block. My spouse thinks that if you mow your lawn you have done all that anyone can expect of you in the way of gardening, except for extreme cases that call for nuclear herbicide. We both would prefer a natural yard that looks like an unkempt woodland edge and needs no maintenance, but it turns out that neglecting your yard does not produce a natural woodland. Yard neglect creates a safe haven for invasive species. Continue reading “invasive species”