Messages from the Wild

Messages from the WildI own two copies of this book both because I am forgetful and because it is a wonderful book, that has compelled me to buy it on two different occasions. First in December of 2005 and then in May of 2008 I read some of its wonderful entries about daily life relating “Suburban natural and unnatural history” along a ravine in the suburbs of Waco, Texas.

It is so much like my own project of relating the natural and unnatural events of Lochwood Park that it has come to be something of a model and mentor for my own work. In his preface (you DO read the preface to every book you read, don’t you?) he says “My operating perspective is the whole Earth, in which the ravine is but a microcosm.” This is almost exactly the subtitle of the original Lochwood Park site – “a park as a microcosm of life.”

I will probably return to Gelbach’s pages often to underline, or repeat, or extent some comment of his, but today my eye was caught by a new idea that certainly pertains particularly to Lochwood Park. His book is an almanac, by month and day, and in the entry for the 10th of February he writes:
“When a small forest preserve is surrounded by culture it becomes weedy, because the Biosphere requires that energy flow from simple, disturbed, and productive communities such as shrublands, yards, and gardens, into complex, energy-storing depots like forests.Escapees from cultivation and weedy natives such as greenbriar and poison ivy proliferate in disturbed spots, because they are long-distance invaders and rapid reproducers. Weedseep is accentuated in a narrow ravine, with a considerable porous edge relative to its interior, and trails that are invasion pathways for seeds inadvertently carried by people, pets, and wildlife. Chunks are better nature preserves.”

While I do not yet understand all of the ecological principles he is laying out (Gelbach taught biology and environmental studies at Baylor University) I do see for the first time why invasive species do so well in Lochwood Park. In the rest of the paragraph he goes on to detail how he tries to keep down those invasive species, like the Nandina which has invaded our park. It is because of the relative amount of edge to forest, and the many paths through the forest that open up the landscape to foreign travelers.

His concept of ‘weedcreep’ is a wonderful word I suspect he coined to describe succinctly how ‘weeds,’ plants either non-native or not wanted in a specific environment, travel along the paths of least resistance, which in this case are the paths themselves. You will see many more weeds at the edge of a large forest than you will in its interior.

I highly recommend Messages from the Wild and will have more comments on the book and his many helpful and insightful ideas in future posts.

If you are interested in the concept of invasive species, and in particular Nandina, here is a very lengthy, footnoted, and personal discussion of this topic.


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