The serpent under the innocent flower

Let me be clear, I have nothing against snakes. I wish them well in their kingdoms -well, the small ones anyway: the ones with tiny teeth which can’t mess with skin, and the ones who are also afraid of shoes. But I think it is the discrepancy between the slowly waving flowers with their colours flirting with the breeze, and the unexpected sinuous movement of  things beneath them that startles me… Okay, scares me. Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny: basal ganglia doing what should have been ceded to higher neural functions long ago.

Same with gardening, for that matter. Still, I have to admit that I don’t garden very often; I was always busy with the dog when I was a kid, and too preoccupied with laundry on weekends when I grew up, so I never really spent much time crawling about in bushes or wherever. But you can only sit on a porch for so long without noticing weeds. And my weeds, for some reason were unusual -not that I am a weedophile, or anything, but they looked vaguely Mesozoic: long slender green stems with dark bars on them. If they’d been a little taller and eventually hardened into furniture, I might have mistaken them for baby bamboos -babies that stayed the same size, albeit more numerous, from year to year. And yet, they had no leaves to photosynthesize, no flowers to attract pollinators, and although they also sort of resembled asparagus stalks, they weren’t.

There is a little pond near my porch, and since the ‘stems’ as I call them, surrounded one side of it I figured they might be a kind of aquatic plant that had decided to come ashore. In fact, their invasion reminded me of John Wyndham’s Triffids; I didn’t trust them. There were none actually in the pond, although with the mat of last year’s dead lilies floating on it, I realized I couldn’t tell if there was a colony living underneath and the stems I could see landward, were just an advance party on reconnaissance.

As well as suspicious and a little frightened, I felt guilty just sitting on the porch and letting them wander any closer to the house -I mean, just in case, eh?- so I thought I’d pull a few of them out and appease my conscience. The problem, though, was the more I pulled, the more there were. The tall ones were easy enough to spot, but the shorter ones were camouflaged in the grass and other weeds I hadn’t really noticed before. It was a serious invasion, and I feared for the porch.

It was after I’d gloved up, and donned my rubber boots (does one actually ‘don’ boots?) that I realized the stems were only a symptom of the neglect around the pond -numerous to be sure, but far less revolting than the huge flower-like things that were trying to hide under the bushes that were linking arms around the far edges of the water. Their thick, creamy leaves, when examined more closely, seemed even more primitive than the stems. However, my abysmal lack of botanical knowledge precluded both an identification of the horrid things as well as a decision as to whether or not they were just plants with grotesque edematous leaves, or flowers with no hope for a social life. No chance for a career in a corsage.

It took me two or three hours to clear away enough stems to reveal the extent of the invasion of these pale things skulking under the bushes. Perhaps I’m being a little hard on them, though. Like the pale, pustular faces of unwell teenagers, they were no doubt innocent of guile, the results of years of neglect -just flowers waiting for a bouquet. The problem, though, is that few of them poked their heads far enough above the bushes that enveloped them to benefit from the sun. I don’t know how they survived down there amongst the worms and crawly-stuff; in fact I wondered whether they were mushroom-mutants, strange amalgams cobbled together by clever fungi in anticipation of claiming the pond for themselves. For that matter, maybe the stems were transvestite members of the same family, deputized to look for more property to feed the clan.

Whoa, after having that thought, I retired to the porch for a drink. But with the stems gone, the view from there was different now, and even the thought of pallid acne lurking in my garden -innocently, or otherwise- was enough to make me change gloves and re-don my boots; enough to ready me for battle, armed with clippers and a trowel.

But in my horticultural naïveté, like Hamlet, I had gravely underestimated that undiscovered country from whose bourn a traveller may not return and make me wonder if I should rather bear those ills I have than fly to others that I know not of… In other words, ignore those grotesqueries, which I mistook as flowers.

I assume it is in the nature of some things to hide. I mean, if I had no arms or legs, I’d feel pretty vulnerable -especially if I’d been painted with bright stripes and a long body as punishment for something a distant relative may or may not have done a long time ago. And where better to hide than under the innocent, slimy flowers that lived in my long neglected neighbourhood? Like hanging out at the corner store with the guys -who could predict the Apocalypse was near?

But, naïvely, I had not expected to meet anything which might object to me crawling through the bushes intent on demolishing the buildings in their community; evicting them without notice; terrorizing their family. It’s probably of little exculpatory value to claim that I am from a different Linnaeus taxonomic group, a separate Magisterium -terrorism is terrorism, no matter the excuse. I can only offer that I was likely as frightened as those denizens of the shade when we discovered each other. Still, it is their world, not mine that I invaded; their home, not mine into which I dug my trowel.

I should have left their community centers intact; I could barely see the waxen flowers in their shadowed redoubts, let alone the quiet meetings they were evolved to host. The Mammalia, should not disparage the Reptilia -we’re both Chordates, after all. There’s room enough for both of us in the garden.

I’m not as sure about the stems, however…


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