Saturday, May 31, 2014

They Murdered My Lantana

Guest post by Bride of the Bloviator

If you had to boil Arizona down to a single concept, it would be this:  rocks.  The state to our right proclaims itself as the “Land of Enchantment.”  The motto for the state to our left (actually, all states are to our left, politically speaking) is, “Eureka, I have found it!”  An honest one for Arizona would be, “Ouch!  I stubbed my toe on it!”

The marketing slogan on highway signs welcoming visitors to Arizona tells you absolutely everything you need to know about us:  “The Grand Canyon State.”  I’ve been there.  The Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground, surrounded by rocks.  Lots of them.  There’s a long, famous trail down to the bottom where, after hiking in the heat for a full day, you can see—wait for it—more rocks.

Or take another one of our most famous tourist destinationsthe Petrified Forest.  What do you see when you get there? Acres and acres of formerly living, green, leafy things that are now—guess what?—rocks.  The park is dedicated to the eternal celebration of this glorious transformation.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Arizona is a fine state with fine people.  And there is beauty here, especially in the higher elevations.  Even down here on the desert floor we have cactus, some of it blooming.  We have your scrub brush, some of it blooming.  We have the occasional bush and some wimpy trees, some of them blooming. 

But we also have a lot of gravel and dirt.  A lot.  And I have come to learn that it is not just any gravel and dirt, but sacred gravel and dirt.  Mess with it, and you are likely to incur some fallout. 
A commonly-seen Arizona yard sign
People here are passionate about their rocks.  Other states have signs that say “Keep off the grass.”  Ours say, “Keep off the gravel.”   Home owners in other states might take rocks out of their yards.  Here they do it the other way around, removing the yards from the rocks.

I am from the east.  Perhaps I have brought my eastern sensibilities with me and have not fully embraced the poetic majesty of the desert vistas.  But I like my greenery.  I need my greenery.  I’m not saying I don’t appreciate gravel.  It has its place.  I had a gravel driveway when I was growing up.  I even get nostalgic for the sound of car tires on gravel, which still says “home” to me.  But you know what it doesn’t say?  “Front yard.”

Water is an issue here; I get that.  But even so, I can’t warm up to “Early American Vacant Lot” as a decorating motif.  It’s a lifestyle issue.  Who wants to run barefoot through the gravel?  Where’s the joy of curling your toes in it?  You don’t see anyone here lying on their backs in the gravel, looking up at the clouds, and seeing if they can spot one shaped like Snoopy.  Not even a dog wants to play throw-the-Frisbee in gravel.  Can you imagine spreading a blanket over hot gravel and having a picnic?  Just doesn’t work. 

You've been warned.
But gravel is what we have.  And it’s not just for yards.  Oh, no.  This state has problems with gravel the way parts of Africa had problems with quicksand in all those old Tarzan movies.  They have highway signs warning you about it.  Apparently, you can fall into the sacred gravel and never emerge again.  You become a sacrifice to the gravel gods.

Every now and then you’ll find someone who is trying to stage a gravel rebellion.  Some homeowners do insist of having patches of real grass.  Native-born Arizonans don’t take kindly to such gestures.  Among other things, imported plants have significantly added to allergy issues in Arizona, which used to be considered allergen-free.  That has caused some hard feelings.  So out of embarrassment, and to keep their houses from being rolled, those home owners who do insist on grass tend to hide it in the back yard. 

Front yards are expected to be grass-free.  In fact, it seems almost any green thing daring to poke its head above ground becomes the enemy.  One year the Bloviator and I suffered some wild flowers to live that had sprouted in our front yard.  We got a nastygram from the homeowners’ association warning us that we’d better do something about our “spurge” and do it right now.  By “spurge” they meant not the genus Euphorbia or any other plant in particular, but rather all plants in general.  Yes, we had committed the unpardonable sin of allowing something green to threaten the sovereignty of the gravel.  People here can be downright hostile about that sort of thing.

The homeowners association where we now live doesn’t trust residents to properly oppress the plants in their front yards on their own.  It contracts the work out, and I’m pretty sure it pays by the pound of foliage removed.  So I can’t say I was surprised at what I found the other day when I came bounding out of the house ready to water my plants.  Shear Happy Landscaping LLC had come by—in the same sense that locusts
The scene of the crime (the shoe is for scale)
“come by.”  They had assassinated my poor little lantana.  Those murderous mulchers had “trimmed” this formerly healthy bush right to the ground, leaving nothing but a hint of brown stalks and a few itty bitty leaves withering in the hotter-than-the-mouth-of-hell heat.  And they’d whacked back the nearby lilac bushes so much that the poor little things looked indecently exposed and downright embarrassed. 

I refuse to give up.  I plan to continue policing my pittosporum.  I’ll champion my cordia.  And I have an eagle eye trained on anyone who tries to hoe down my hibiscus.   I do not go gentle into that good vacant lot.  I rage, rage against the dying of the green.

All that said, I do like it here in Arizona.  I’m not trying to stage a coup.  I don’t say that yards in this part of the country should be terraformed like something out of a science fiction novel to look like Tennessee.  What I do say is that in Arizona, gravel will be with us always.  But the lantana is special.  It poses no threat, and even adds a small measure of cool joy in an otherwise hot and miserable desert environment.  I say, let it live. 

I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.  Change begins with the individual.  Just say yes to green.  If enough of us do that, then maybe together, we can change the world.   Or at least save a bush or two.

A piece of petrified tree--not yet Arizona's official plant.
If nothing else, perhaps we can dissuade the legislature from designating the petrified tree as the state's official plant.


P.S.  I’m just kidding about the Grand Canyon, which has to be seen to be believed.  But it does have rocks.

All images by TBB and BTB.

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©2014 by Forrest and Deborah Carr.  All rights reserved.

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