Monday, May 25, 2009

Dangerous Beauty and other Invasive Species Traps

Helen of Sparta, later Helen of Troy, daughter of Zeus and Leda or Nemesis, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, and sister of Castor, Polydeuces and Clytemnestra was for Troy a dangerous beauty. Her arrival on foreign shores as an exotic alien was filled with unintended consequences that early detection and rapid response might have averted. Of course the analogy is not quite congruent as Helen had not the time to bring off-spring into Troy and assiduously displace the natives, but the effect was the same none-the-less.

In the war on invasive species between traditional gardeners and naturalists, beauty is a battlefield frontline from which there is little room for retreat. Learning the grammar and syntax of a landscape includes becoming aware of the particular norms of beauty inherent within the landscape language of user and the beholder. The pristine, well ordered, finished edges of a traditional garden impart a sense of control, and therefore safety. The security of a manicured hedgerow and the repetition of identical cultivated varieties chosen for their function, form and texture are an integral part of the beauty of the place. Like paint upon a blank canvas, the gardener creates a scene around which the randomness of the world swirls but within which all is calm and peaceful.

The pyramid of eco-system services in the mind of a traditional gardener rests upon the informing, cultural services, reflecting back on the historic provisioning services of forestry and agriculture. Faintly and transformatively, in a Chomsky sense, are references found to the eco-system services of provision and regulation, but rather an assumption that diversity is served by the importation of new species and that erosion and other regulating services are best served by the shaping of the land. The great gardens of today rest upon the shoulders of constant, vibrant, short and quick, eternal cycles of fundamental eco-system services such as atmospheric gas regulation and storm dampening. Pollination and genetic variety are built in and assumed by the dependent artisans of land-shaping traditions.

'In the other corner of the epic conflict are the environmentally literate proponents of naturalized landscapes steeped in the syntax of Rousseau. The pyramid of eco-system services is inverted in the eyes of traditional gardeners to stress the basics of regulation and provisioning, recognizing that the resources thus provided will allow for agriculture and landscaping. The expectant primacy of regulating services knows that if you maintain it the rest of the services can come. The informing services of human health and welfare, of culture and history fade to secondary importance, and the fight is joined at the battle line of beauty.

In the minefield of the controversy, the wicked inconvenience of invasive species issues rears its head, to bring in other constituencies such as capitalism and property rights and the immediate access to natural resources as a given in which human labor is added to create value. There lurks the idea that resources on touched by man have limited value until the craftsmen touch them. Try to borrow money for a bog and see how far we are from an eco-system based public valuation of the resources surrounding and supporting us. To tell a gardener that they may not increase the diversity of their holdings or that they will be limited to native only selection is to touch several third rails of calm conversation. To wave the red flag of property rights in front of sustainable living proponents is to throw fuel on a passion.

We must find away to change the pyramid of eco-system services into equal weighted components. We need gas exchange and art, pollinators and corn, weathering and recreation, genetic diversity and fuel, and we need them all in equal measure at different moments of our lives. The paradigm of eco-system services allows for common conversation and provides a framework for progress. The wicked inconvenience of invasive species is an infinite set within the infinite set of sustainability that includes climate change, energy needs and human health.

1 comment:

Samantha said...

Referencing Greek myth/history Chomsky and Rousseau you have learnedly delineated the very problem that I face. It was inchohate and now it is not!

It is the invasive species which I unknowingly Gooseneck Loosetrife, Wisteria Plena, which fray my edges, wear my patience..etc..and make me question my natural bent..I also let things that appear grow, which I sometimes later regret..most of my garden has planted itself

Now I start to see where I went wrong, and what I must study, research and weed to correct

Thank You