Sunflowers on Steroids
Here’s a short story for your spring, now that we see the flowers growing like they’re on steroids – and they are, of course – for a flash fiction challenge about invasive species – a topic I’ve talked about before….
Always said them scientists would mess everythin’ up, playin’ round with Creation like they was God.
The environmental beatniks said it too, course, but they said all kind of whatnot, like the weather was changin’, that we didn’t listen much to them guys. Joel McCallum, though, he reads the scientific papers, and he said they reckoned the canola plants’d be the ones that did it, them being so common and close to weeds anyway. He said the genetically modified canola would mix with the field mustard plants, and lead to a superweed that nothin’ could get rid of. The idea of sunflowers takin’ over like they was on steroids, well, we none of us predicted that.
What we never saw comin’, either, was losing our land to the federal government after trying so hard to keep independent from them assholes in DC.
We bought the land fair and square, set up our town ten years beforehand. We were self-sufficient by then, hundred per cent, and all set for the apocalypse, should it decide to turn up. We never did think it’d turn out this way.
It was the federal government’s fault, though, too. Always knew that would be true. They were the ones invited that crazy sonbitch to plant those damn sunflower plants out our way. Gave him permission to use federal land we used to graze cattle off, not twenty miles from town. Well, we didn’t think no sunflowers’d stand the shallow soil there. No depth at all, after the dustbowl years took it clean away. Even the grass dried up when it didn’t rain in late spring. We didn’t think the plants would stand up in the wind, first time we went out there and they told us what it was they were growin’.
Joel tried to explain what they’d done to the sunflowers – struck in some genes from a creeper, a vine of some sort that was supposed to only change the roots from the deep taproots sunflowers supposed to grow, into wide spreading roots that’d keep the plants upright and get them enough water from what rains came. They’d spread the seeds out farther than normal to compensate. Well, Joel didn’t know what way they’d messed up – whether they’d put in the wrong piece of string or if the gene did more jobs than just make roots of one sort or the other, but mess up they did, good and well. Plants grew up stringy and creeping; stretched along the ground, covering the empty patches between plants till it was just a sea of green, with all trace of the rows they’d been planted in gone. The flowers were small, but each plant had four or five ‘stead of one. We was amazed that first year. The scientists just took notes. They harvested some, but with the way the plants were all higgledy-piggledy, they missed half the seed heads.
Course, we didn’t like to let the food go to waste. We was self-sufficient, but it’s a sin to waste such bounty as the Lord places before you. We planted some in our own plots – and planned to keep plantin’ it, till we realised it didn’t need no plantin’. The wind came through one night, the way it does, and the seeds flew everywhere on it. Next year, it was everywhere. It invaded the wheat fields, covered the town. It was kinda pretty at first. We used the oil for our trucks, couple of years. But we soon saw it was gettin’ serious when it covered the forest floors, started cloggin’ the creek, and broke half the corn plants before they got to cobbin’. It wrapped around everything – I mean everything – like vines, like morning glory, or that Japanese knotweed and them other invasive species they’re always goin’ on about. These creepers blocked out the light from every other plant, till there were was nothin’ else we could grow.
Well, we thought we could at least use the oil to cut and burn it out, but eventually, much as it galled us to do it, we had to ask the federal government for help. It was their problem, all said and done.
They came, in helicopters, since the roads were practically overgrown by then. One fella told Joel they was comin’ anyhow, whether we asked them or not. Their scientists told them to shut down the whole operation – and more. They was goin’ to move us – would’ve paid us to up and move sticks someplace else. But what we asked for help, they just took us out, told us to gather up our belonging, and make damn sure it was all clean of vegetative material, they called it.
We did as was asked – we weren’t no fools, wishing this upon everyone, or anyone else. That would be a sin not even God might forgive. Besides, we weren’t ready for this kind of apocalypse. Nor were we ready for any kind of reckonin’ without our land, our shelters, our supplies.
When they took us up in the helicopters, we saw them start the firebombin’ straight off. That shit smelt like the end of the world. No wonder them Vietnamese hated us, using that shit on them. I asked the pilot how much they was going to burn. Five thousand square miles, he told me. Hell of a lot of Napalm man. Of course, we had some Napalm ourselves, just in case. When I saw the town explode, I thought, well, there’s an end to it. We might not survive the next apocalypse, but at least we helped the world avoid this one.
That’s what I thought. That’s what we all thought, true as the Lord is lookin’ down on me.
Thing about sunflowers, though, even these crazy ass ones, was the seeds were real tasty. The kids in town used to go round all day, biting on them and spitting out the shells. Well, how can you put the blame on the shoulders of a little kid, not eight year old, instead of the scientist that made them seeds? She meant t’ eat them, of course, and all would’ve been well. But when she saw the explosion from all the stuff we’d in storage, well, she jumped so high she near enough fell out of the damn chopper herself. Only natural the bag slipped out her hand.
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth; at least This Part.
Sun rises over the mountains Christmas morn,
Shreds lingering mist strings off the oak slopes.
Starlings sing across vale from barn and shed,
Sparrows flit back and forth on tree and hedge.
Windmills steady, cows still not lowing, nor
Dinging. Dew dries, roof drips, while kite
Shifts on bough, readying to take to clear skies.
Robin skips in goodwill, trilling to a lone soul
Soaking silence embracing peace on Earth;
This piece, yet in the absence of men.
Wrote this on Christmas morning, sitting in that sun – it’s a remarkably relaxed time in Amatriain, where mass was the day before, and, dinner was very late, and lunch has usually been taken care of already (and doesn’t consist of turkey).
Hope everyone has had a nice holiday season and that we will have some peace in 2017.
I’m about to start edits of Silver Nights Part 2, Leading the Pack…. almost as excited as a kid at Christmas!
Parental advice sought – to a certain extent…
This is straight up, in that it concerns a real kid, my kid. I’m not worried about anything she’s doing, nor do I need Supernanny to come rescue me from my own idiocy as my three-year-old destroys my house and life. I’m pretty ok as a parent, but I do have a small concern, about the topic of religion. There lies the “certain extent” – I’m not sure to what extent I’m going to follow any suggestions.
My daughter has just learnt about Jesus (the Christ one – since we live in Spain you have to qualify). This was inevitable. Two of her great uncles are priests and they live with her grandparents. I’ve no big problem with the idea. She’s been baptised and we go to the mass presided over by one of the uncles in the small village church when we’re there for Sunday lunch. She knows enough to be fairly quiet while in mass, too. I lost my own faith a long time ago now. I’m still spiritual but the church – especially the Irish church, but this isn’t the time to talk about mass “graves” and manslaughter charges – makes me mad.
Unlike Richard Dawkins, who seems to have his knickers in a twist about even reading fairy tales to kids, I have no major problem with having kids believe in magical beings. Their lives are filled with imaginary beings, from the Easter Bunny, to the Tooth Fairy, to the Three Magic Kings and Santa Claus. When a child straddles cultures, like my daughter, they’re nearly doubled. What’s another one going to do? While Dawkins claims to never have believed in Santa – which might be a reason he’s such a dour sonofabitch – my daughter does, and furthermore believes that he comes when she goes to Ireland, where he’s called Santy.
Looking at it scientifically, I can’t see any difference between having her believe in a big magical old guy with a beard who brings gifts to good kids and lumps of coal to the bold, and another magical old guy with a beard who rewards the good with a nice afterlife and makes the bold burn in fiery coals of hell. (Hell, a place that the pope doesn’t even believe in any more, making it worthless even as a children’s swear.) I’ve said that before. The advantage of God, is that the threat of his displeasure works all year round, not just before Christmas.
While Dawkins is against all magic, the extremists on the other side of the divide would, ironically, probably agree with him about fairytales – they were the wankers who said reading Harry Potter would make kids want to practice magic etc. at the same time failing to see that religion is nothing other than a belief in magic – though our parish priest (the one informing my daughter about her friend Jesus) has basically admitted in mass that the miracle of the loaves and the fishes was at best a bit of hand-quicker-than-the-eye trickery if not just a show of solidarity that got the crowd moving: the old, you show yours first and then I’ll show mine after routine with the grub.
Getting back to God and Santy, we don’t need the threat of divine displeasure of anyone (or the threat of displeasure of the teacher at the crèche, which I’ve heard some parents do). If she’s bold (Irish for naughty in case you haven’t copped), then I am sad, and that should be enough. And it usually is, so far (touch wood). She’s a sensitive child. She worries about people littering, and has a hard time comprehending that people do what she’s been told is wrong, and would not now do herself. I’ve had to explain that there are bold and even bad people in the world – she’s had belongings stolen already, and she kinda gets it. I have explained that the big bad wolf is only doing what wolves do and that we eat little piggies too, and she gets that – though she did think I was only messing at first, like I do when I say the bird she’s pointing to is an elephant and she replies with an exaggerated “Nooo! It’s a magpie! (or whatever it actually is). She understands that animals die and we eat them, and to be honest, when she sees fish swimming in a pond or tank she rubs her belly and says “yummy yummy.” She has yet to differentiate between the two Spanish words for fish: one for swimming the other for fridge. She knows that if you don’t water plants “they get very dead,” and she understands that people die and we’re sad and though it makes her sad when she thinks about it, she already gets sad at the airport, and says out loud that she’s sad because so-and-so have to go home or she can’t stay with them, so it’s something she’ll have to get used to along with the other minor melancholia of life. She’s a sensitive child, as I said, but I haven’t held back on the truth of life and death (and though she’s seen lots of real-life storks, nobody’s ever suggested that they have anything to do with sprogs).
But my question is, does she have to know all about Jesus Christ right now, straight away? She has been informed that to be a friend of Jesus she has to go to catechism class (yea, here in Spain the schools don’t prepare kids for their first communion: separation of church and state and all that). But she’s telling me how “Jesus was taken by some bad people and put up on some sticks and killed.” I mean, WTF? I’ve yet to talk to talk to the priest about this, but I reckon three years old has to be a bit young for that. It definitely seems to be for her. I turn off the news nearly every night here so she doesn’t keep asking why the police are beating the shit out of people protesting an eviction, or just going ballistic on some demonstrators because they can get away with it. It’s hard to tell kids to go running to a cop instead of away (like the police say asking parents not to threaten their kids with “telling a policeman” when they’re naughty – better to say you’ll tell Santy, I reckon) when the cops are gleefully baton charging innocent commuters and popping off plastic rounds down the platform of a railway station, hundreds of yards from the building (full of corrupt fuckers, but that’s another day’s discussion) they’re supposedly protecting. I’m not saying I’ll tell her to run away, but drop into a foetal position is probably good parental advice. I don’t think she needs to know about Jesus Christ’s torture and crucifixion to “be his friend.” Am I being too sensitive?
While I know that some sound humanistic behaviours were advocated by JC back in the day, and I hope he’d be on my side of the police barricade in an eviction situation, I wish we could just skip him altogether and go straight to Ghandi. After all, it’s basically the same message (commits huge error and offends Hindus the world over, but blunders on regardless) but Ghandi has the advantage that he actually achieved something in his lifetime and was so old when he was assassinated (and a few bullets is not quite as gruesome as crucifixion) that we can basically gloss over that bit when we’re talking to preschoolers.
And when do the good people of the world – you and me – think the day will come when we won’t have to hold back any of the truth to young kids, because we won’t have situations where the police are beating protesters (or innocent bystanders), or the army are shooting rubber bullets at drowning migrants to keep them off the beach? When will be not have to turn off the news showing old and infirm pensioners being forcibly evicted from their paid-up house because they signed as guarantor for a son or daughter who bought a shitty flat for an exorbitant price and then lost their job, and the government only gives 400 euro dole, from which they’ve to pay a 400 euro mortgage and keep four kids alive and clothed? My only consolation is that some of it is just news that can be actually turned off the television – that at least she’s not going to school in the US and so she doesn’t need to be trained for the possible event of a “bad person” coming in her school to shoot her and her friends – and I say that as a hunter and gun owner: I’d rather earn a privilege than share a right with a load of fuckwads, especially fuckwads with high powered weapons.
If you can’t answer the question with anything other than my own response: “never, and it’s best to just toughen her up to get prepared for the shit that she’ll have to deal with, which will make our petty problems look, well, petty, if not simply quaint and laughable,” well, then, perhaps I don’t need any advice after all.