Monday, June 19, 2006

Of Black Holes and Ficus

I believe in black holes. I can think of no other explanation for a wrought iron “s” hook to be on the counter one moment and gone the next.

Such events are followed by terse words between those who want the “s” hook and those claiming not to have touched it. The ensuing frustrating search typically fails to locate any sign of said solid-metal hook. Then several days later the metal “s” hook reappears a foot or two from its original location. Where did the missing piece of metal go? How did it find itself in a farcical position that no one claims to have put it in? Perhaps it was there all along, but just in a different plane of reality. Perhaps it traveled through a black hole.

I have tumbled through such tears in the dimensional fabric myself. I submit as evidence the days when I sit down to write at 10:00 AM lean back in my chair and am shocked to find it is 6:00 PM. Hours of time in one plane of reality slip away, while my reality records only a short stream of minutes.

Black holes also transport me back to specific moments in the distant past. With a bit of a blank stare, I can step through such a portal and listen to an Eastern Sierra breeze streaming through cottonwood leaves. Softly green rip-stop nylon flaps against a tent pole thirty-four years ago. Sheperd’s Creek swirls in an eddie and the high desert air is morning cool.

Ficus seedlings in my backyard are yet more proof of black holes. Ficus benjamina, the ever present “weeping fig” found in homes and offices, is indigenous to India and Malaysia. Imported specimens can grow to 20 or 30 feet in landscaped Southern California yards. Removed from their natural pollinators, teeny-tiny wasps, these figs acted as tidy hedges and screens. But now, within the past three years, those tiny wasps have slipped through a black hole and emerged on the other side of the plant. My neighbor’s Ficus benjamina is producing peppercorn-sized, blue-black fruit.

It is one thing to have clusters of dark exotic fruit hanging lusciously in the tree. It is another to watch native birds loving them. This spring the band-tailed pigeons gobbled great masses of F. benjamina figs. The mockingbirds, the house finch, and even the hermit thrush were taste-testing the fruit.

But where there are ripe fruit there are also seeds. What was once a neat landscaping plant is now a verdant menace trying to establish a Malaysian forest in my California backyard. I am pulling up ficus seedlings by the handful. What troubles me more is that ficus and birds have a codependent relationship. The ficus provides fruit with the understanding that the birds will spread its issue far and wide. Even the coyotes have been lured into this business. They are also consuming the wild exotic figs and spreading the tiny seeds in their droppings.

While the dry weather will halt some of the spread, how long will it be before ficus challenges our native sycamores along canyons and streambeds? If I could just find the right black hole that would let me stop that first pollenating wasp and send it back to Asia where it belongs.

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