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Life as a Performance Art

    Every September my mother spent several dollars buying boxes of rolls of caps for my genuine Roy Rogers Six Shooter.  If we needed more ammunition she was more than happy to foot the bill.  The reason for this was simple:  starlings.  We were directly under their flight path, and our hillside was covered with oak trees. The starlings flew in and landed for a while, then took wing and moved on.  The problem was that they left the roof, hood, and windshield of her car covered with their “calling cards.”  A few times each fall the Olds would warn us not to look up and open our mouth at the same time.
     We spent late afternoons outside, and when the ‘enemy’ was about to land, my sister and I would give them a modest little bang that persuaded them to move on.  Sometimes I would take a whole roll of caps and a hammer, making it sound more like an 8-gauge shotgun blast.  They took off with such vehemence we could hear their wings beating the air.
    Starlings were invasive species. No matter how magical and wonderful their murmurations seem, they were, and still are, invasive species.  As it turns out, they are just one of many. The other day some visitors from that big suburb to the south of us, you know, the one down at the bottom of the lake, scolded me like an errant schoolboy because they saw barberry bushes on our property.  If they had looked more carefully, they might have seen some black walnut saplings, as well.
     I was informed in no uncertain terms that they were invasive plants that had no business in a garden.  One of them told me that some bird might eat a berry and then leave a deposit mile from here, helping to spread them.
     Most of our invasive species are the result of human activity.  For example, the starlings and English (or house) sparrows were brought to this country because someone believed they would help control our insect population.  They didn’t do much good, but they were prolific breeders, and now they are everywhere.  Even though we do not hear much about them lately, the Asian carp were brought here as a potential source of food and high protein fertilizer. All went well until their ponds flooded and they got into the Mississippi River.  With nothing to stop them, they saw upriver.  They are not all that far from Lake Michigan, and if they get into the big lake, someone has a readymade script for a horror movie that will move Sharkathon Week off the small screen.
    Burmese pythons were once thought to be cute little pets.  Then they grew up and they weren’t so cute anymore, so people dumped them into the wilds. They began to thrive; as in REALLY thriving. Again, they had no predators to keep their numbers in check.  Every year some areas of Florida and the southeast have round ups to capture and dispose of as many pythons as possible.  The snakes, along with the alligators,  are rarely used as a selling point for Florida’s tourist and real estate businesses.  Someday a horror-story writer will hammer out the tale of greedy middle-aged children shipping the OIds off to retirement villages in Florida where they will be dinner for dangerous reptiles, the better to get their inheritance sooner.
  Kudzu was brought from the Orient in the 1870s, as a way of controlling erosion and a source of animal food.  It did those things, but there was no stopping it. Farms and various state and federal departments have been fighting against it, but it is still spread at a rate of about 2500 acres per year.  That is about 4 square miles. Each year. Every year.
    Black walnuts are native to some parts of the country, and for several decades the wood was highly prized by the automotive industry.  Thin strips of wood were cut and used as a real wood veneer in the interior, especially on expensive luxury cars.  As a youngster I planted some, thinking that I could buy a Rolls from the profit of selling the wood.  Then, plastic replaced it, and the market for black walnut disappeared.  The trees continue to spread because squirrels carry the nuts to store for the winter, and then forget their stash.
   And here in the Great Lakes region, in addition to the Asian carp, we have experienced the invasion of zebra mussels and other aquatic pests.  Before that, the lampreys which nearly decimated our salmon population.
    Those are only a few of the world’s 37,000 invasive plants and animals that have established themselves in new territories where they do not belong, according to the UN Commission on Biodiversity.  The economic toll is about 400 billion dollars per year, or the equivalent of the Gross Domestic Production of Denmark or Thailand.  That is not ‘chump change’ and it means the poorest people are the ones hurt the most.
     These invasive species have a horrifying effect on our health as well.  Just one example: Non-native mosquitoes that migrated into the southern parts of the United States carried the Zika Virus with them, creating severe challenges for infants and newborns.
     There is no simple solution.  I have often read and sometimes followed the advice of British gardener Alan Titmarsch.  A few years ago he was encouraging people to seriously consider rewilding their lawns and gardens. In other words, let it return to nature. That might be a polite way of saying we should let the weeds take over and quit using the mower.
      This summer he wrote that he was wrong.  Rewilding has been a complete ecological disaster for the small animals.  Instead, he is encouraging people to plant wildflower gardens instead of hybrid annuals and perennials.
     Most home and landowners, perhaps without knowing it, follow the first rule in the Hippocratic oath for physicians: Do no harm.  We read the warning labels and instructions on garden products, use our brain and think ahead, and try to be good stewards of our property.  Even then, sometimes when we mean well we blunder straight into a fiasco.
     Here, at least, the barberries will disappear and the black walnut saplings will be cut and taken to the street.  Our open is that by opening part of the ground cover and tree canopy we are doing some good.

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