Berries, Biology and Transplants

Brunch Potpourri

If you don’t already know this about me…I love to eat. Food is one of my greatest joys….

Sarah pulled her white van into the drive just as I pulled my black truck up to the curb. Together we entered her home and I was immediately taken back in memory to the duplex my husband and I bought after our first year of marriage. Sarah’s doorways are arched, the living room has built-in cabinetry with stained glass, and I immediately felt at home.

While Sarah introduced me to her husband, Figa, I eyed up an egg bake cooling on the stove top. I saw spinach, peppers and mushrooms. I spied fresh berries in a chilled stainless bowl next to another filled with fresh whipped cream. I hoped the musicians would arrive soon.

“The two of you have never met? Gail has been one of my most regular students since we moved here,” Sarah said to Figa. She handed me a mug of coffee.

Figa and I shook hands in greeting.

Do you create an image in your mind’s eye of people you’ve heard about but never met?

I do that all the time.

My mental picture of Figa was right on! He’s a tall, well-built Costa Rican. Casual in shorts, t-shirt, and baseball cap, I felt at ease with him immediately.

Musicians Dennis and Victoria arrived, greeted Figa and Sarah’s four-year-old daughter, then we all congregated around a large white cage in the dining room. It held two parakeets, one with lime green feathers and the other turquoise.

“Do they have names?” I asked the four-year-old.

“No…,” she said, “but some of the frogs do.” She led me through the arched living room entry to an aquarium populated by colorful frogs, ferns, and orchids.

“Let’s eat,” suggested Sarah from the kitchen, just a few short strides away.

Sarah didn’t have to call me twice. I was the first to grab a white porcelain plate. Dish still empty, I saw an opportunity to engage Figa in conversation. Food would have to wait…

“Your daughter showed me the frogs,” I said. “Frogs are your area of study, right?”

Figa is a biology professor at the local university. Sarah’s told me a little bit about his work and research trips. I asked him if he’s spent any time studying frogs at the Vernon Marsh, where the feet and paws of my family have put on many miles.

He hasn’t…but went on to tell me more about his area of interest.

“Have you heard of buckthorn?” he asked.

“Yes…, the bush?…tree?…grows all over our yard. It’s taken over!”

Figa explained—not only does the plant (brought over as hedge and ornamental from Europe) choke out other vegetation, it also emits a chemical that is wreaking havoc with spring hatching frogs. Some amphibians, like spring peepers, lay their eggs in small, leaf-strewn ponds. In early spring, those waters are full of a toxin called Emodin, from fallen buckthorn leaves. Figa told me that baby frog livers are not developed enough to handle the alcohol-like substance. At that point in their development, baby frog energy goes toward other, more pressing, growth needs.

I wondered, but did not ask…Will the frogs adapt?

My attention divided between a couple of conversations, I did not retain Figa’s full description of experiments underway to fix the problem—something about a chemical to encourage buckthorn seeds to pass quickly through animal’s digestive tracts….birds and small mammals reacting with diarrhea…some are weak and dying…

Soon everyone else was seated and eating. Figa and I filled our plates and moved to the dining room where we were separated by the four-year-old Cocoa Puff connoisseur.

My attention redirected to a conversation about harmoniums—playing them by feel, purchasing them from India, and, Did you know that missionaries brought the instrument to India as a substitute pipe organ? The Indians adopted and adapted the apparatus to suit their own ideas and purposes?

Is it part of the human condition to explore, move, change and strive for control?

I’ve decided it’s not my responsibility to judge—or control.

Who decides what’s right or wrong? Good or bad? And, why?

“Everything can be this. Everything can be that,” said Chang Tsu.

We’ll see?

I recently read an article about an anthropologist—Gregory Bateson.

Bateson urged people to contemplate more, and act less. He wrote: The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.

A summary of the conclusions he reached at the end of his career might run like this: both society and the environment are profoundly sick, skewed and ravaged by the Western obsession with control and power, a mindset made all the more destructive by advances in technology. However, any attempt to put things right with more intervention and more technology can only be another manifestation of the same wrongheadedness.

What do YOU think about that?