- About a decade ago, this patch of waterside land was cleared and carefully replanted. Signs boldly proclaimed a “Native Vegetation Restoration Zone.” Keeping it such proved a Sisyphean task, effort and money ran out, and it has reverted to being a typical vacant lot. The only native species remaining are beach roses and poison ivy, and the beach roses are succumbing rapidly to salt intrusion from higher tides and frequent floods.
- Few local plants adapt well to the disturbances of human civilization. Fewer still can compete with rugged global imports. Our landscape changes much too quickly for any to evolve. It is doubtful that we can preserve many plants or animals which require specialized niches over the next decades or centuries. A few zoos or botanic reserves may somehow keep going, but I fear most will end up exactly like this impoverished _ but still beautiful _ bit of ground.
Invasive species thrive and spread
In upturned soil exotic flowers
Are pampered yielding massive show
We care not that such flower beds
Displace what once received the showers
Dried, and died, nowhere to go.
A few lament, with glossy views
In thick-bound books safe on our shelves
What now is missing, wild and free
As once it was before the crews
Destroyed it all to please ourselves
With artificial harmony.
I do admit I’d fear the wolf
Or cougar should they both return
There’s limit to what I dare face
Yet I’d allow plants to engulf
My labors, even if they turn
Out to be plain, they have their place.
I’ll never recreate what was
Ecologies are simply whole
With parts replaced, the rest adjust,
Or not, but something new with flaws
A different unit fills the role
As true as any, less robust
- There is nothing quite so ecologically devastating as a farm, but close second is a large lawn. Land is leveled, one species of grass is encouraged to grow, and everything is constantly cut and trimmed to a low height. It has been said that nothing an individual can plant is quite as eternal as a lawn _ even completely untended, remnants of it will last for centuries, if only in woodland glades. Designed by humans, but adapting to the wild.
- Yet I love large lawns such as this, with sweeping vistas. Close inspection reveals that many species of grass have crept in, some of them undoubtedly native. Worms, birds, rabbits, raccoons, deer, and in more remote areas, foxes wander across as they wish. As a person who tries to love nature dearly, I suppose I should be ashamed to enjoy this space, but such are the contradictions of modern life which I have learned to accept. A fanatic may condemn, but emotionally I just cannot regard this green expanse as vast evil even as my mind recoils at the destruction of original habitat. I guess I also must adapt.
Joe and Linda were arguing about something or other, as I passed them up near the Civil War Memorial statue at the end of town. I was just in time to hear Joe somewhat sheepishly admit “Well, I’ve evolved on that issue, you know.”
That stopped me in my tracks. I have a stupid habit of lecturing when I should keep quiet, but this is a personal vendetta. “Individuals don’t evolve,” I stated, startling them.
“What?” asked Joe, confused by the change in conversational direction.
“Individuals don’t evolve. Species evolve. Individuals adapt.”
“Everybody else says they evolve,” argued Linda. “It’s common usage, after all.”
“I know,” I responded, now a little sorry I’d started anything. “But the theory of evolution is so clean and precise _ descent with modification. No evolution without offspring. Genetically modified offspring at that. Individuals cannot evolve. I just don’t like the term, it implies _ well more than that.”
“Like what,” Joe asked curiously.
“Especially like you just used it,” I reply. “As if you are arriving at a better and higher and more perfect place. I never hear anyone evolve into something they think is socially incorrect.”
“Well, life does get more complex …”
“Not necessarily. Life can get more simple, lose limbs, fit a niche by being less demanding and precise. Evolution is complicated, not a march toward some platonic ideal.”
“My ideas however,” said Joe sternly, “do have offspring, and do evolve, and do turn into different creatures altogether. An evolving meme species, as it were, ideas dying into entirely new directions.”
He was right, I guess. I shrugged and smiled, and continued on down the street a trifle embarrassed. I guess I could use some evolution of social skills myself.
- Grass matts have moved, somewhat diminished, and are once again sprouting up and rooting downward. Under natural conditions, there would be plenty of open space for marshlands to gradually occupy upslope as water rose, adapting to changing sea level. However, humans like to live near the shore, so above the actual littoral there are wide bulldozed beaches, rocky berms, concrete walls, and wooden or steel bulkheads. There is no place left for the grass to adapt to.
- I have no power in all this. If I worry about each sparrow falling or marsh grass failing I will simply be sad all day long, and miss all the wondrous beauty that remains. I dutifully send off my dues to organizations like the Nature Conservancy and desperately hope that somewhere, somehow, things will turn out well. Today, I must content myself by being grateful that I have been privileged to know this world that is and what not long ago was. Accepting powerlessness is no doubt a necessary adaptation of my mind.
- Not long ago, all biologic thinking revolved around nature and nurture _ genetic makeup versus learning and training. Only higher vertebrates could be taught much of anything, all the other species were trapped by their genes. Adaptation to conditions was limited to being stunted, misshapen, or hungry. Recent discoveries and observations have proved such a limited view quite wrong. Not only is there vast variation in genetic genotypes for a particular species (height, size, whatever) but epigenetics prove that genes function by being turned off and on at crucial times, and that these triggers are often triggered by environmental conditions.
- So even within a given species, individuals can often be born pre-adapted to conditions. Hunger, warmth, and various other stresses on the mother or egg can affect the development of the embryo, and even organisms born with completely identical genes, such as twins, could theoretically grow to be different sizes and certainly non-identical later minds. The more complicated the organic system, the more likely epigenetics will alter it. The human brain, of course, is the most complicated organic system of all.
- Adaptation after youth in all species, especially human, is well documented and much discussed, but hardly understood. Why do some people, regardless of upbringing, become antisocial failures? Why are others superstars? What is the magic key that socializes human beings? Why do some adapt to poor or wonderful conditions with increased vigor and success, while others fall into ruin and, for example, addiction? None of this is known, and constant new studies seem to indicate that what is known is wrong.
- I wake each morning, as I suppose we all do, preadapted to my immediate world. If it has changed unrecognizably due to some disaster, I would be lost, but such is not usually the case. Within that adaptation, I go about my limited daily routine, fitting quite well into the grooves of my life. I accept my limitations, and strive with my ambitions. I have been that way, it seems, for most of my life. That is a long, ongoing, adaptation, founded on my genetics and modified by my environmental and social situation.
- All this and more is strikingly obvious by observing not only other people, but especially the rest of nature, in which we have invested no envy nor internal competition. Birds and trees, fish and weeds, can teach us a lot about ourselves, if we just open our minds to full contemplation of their world. Life remains an open book for us to examine. Unfortunately, at least for the hubris that we should know everything, that book contains infinite pages.
- Today is the Huntington Harbor festival, and the tulips have cooperated. Booths and music and various events have been planned for the extravaganza. Unfortunately, this picture was taken several days before. Right now is one of the most miserable mornings we have had in a while _ very below normal temperature, nasty drizzling showers, raw wind sucking away warmth, and a grey cast to every color.
- Spring makes every plan for outdoor activity an anxious adventure. The day may be too hot, cold, windy, rainy, overcast, soggy, or combinations of any and all of the above. In a society that loves schedules, that leads to some frustration. I have escaped anxiety of good weather on days off, but I remember how annoying it could be to have a lovely spell followed by a nasty weekend. Our culture still has not learned how to adapt to circumstance except by ignoring it by moving events indoors. I will take my poncho and make the best of it.