Matthew Lickona 3 p.m., April 28
- Community Blog
- Right Smack Dab in the Middle
Where will all the flowers go?
A strange, frightening uproar, like screeching and screaming, came through my window last week, and at first I thought it was the onset of Armageddon. The end of the world, at 8:30 in the morning, beginning right next to my Mission Valley apartment in a field that was a dazzle of wildflowers. From my fourth-story window I soon spotted the cause of the pandemonium: a gray mower pulled by a black tractor through wildflowers, beheading orange gazanias, purple clover, blue agapanthus, white daisies, and tall yellow mustard. When the tractor-mower finished—about four hours later—the colorful field of wildflowers was as brown and barren as a vacant lot in El Centro.
Oh no! I thought. Ground preparation for a construction site. Yet another Mission Valley development soon to be my neighbor, bringing the clangor of excavators, dump trucks, cement mixers, generators, pneumatic hammers, and boom boxes. The wild, vibrant ecosystem of flora and fauna that existed right here in the middle of the Valley would be replaced by habitat for humanity. Gone would be the killdeer chirping over the nighttime field like rusty scissors. No more marauding coyotes and their midnight yipping and yelping. No longer the tournaments of keen-eyed hawks perched in eucalyptus trees and diving, swift as arrows, to strike unsuspecting rodents. Crows would have no field to scratch for gravel, and flocks of speckled and striped and capped songs birds would have no place to peck for seeds. The gophers, in constant fear of hawks, with no weeds to hide in, would migrate to nearby lawns, then be trapped by homeowners. And the rabbits? This spring I had watched a pair of cottontails establish a den in a hole in the middle of the field, and with binoculars I had recently seen frizzy heads poke out.
I went down to investigate. Please don't let it be a high-rise, I thought in the elevator. But as I stepped into the sunshine I remembered that this same thing had happened last year. And the year before. The springtime field had been scalped of wildflowers and wildlife for a parking lot. The River Run Golf Course, about 200 yards from the field, held its two-day Golf Fest every year, and needed the field for parking. Let's hope, I thought, that was again the reason for the mower and not the pre-construction of more high-rises. But still, was a parking lot necessary? What do we need most right now: a field of flowers that will last for months, or a parking lot for a two-day sporting event?
I clung to the chain link fence separating apartments and field. The scene was dead silent. Mounds of stems and leaves and blossoms lay in rows like carcasses, separated by strips of stubble that looked like birds' legs cut off at the knees. At one end of the field the recent rain had created a large puddle—which I named Killdeer Lake—and it was marred and rutted by tractor tires. The swarms of insects—bat food at night—had been replaced by dull grey dust. The fragrance of wildflowers overcome by diesel fumes. The rabbit hole filled with dirt. But amid my resentment, I noticed that this year only half the field had been mowed.
On the other side of the field, in the driveway near the gate, I saw the tractor driver sweeping the mud and flower heads from his mower, and hurried to meet him before he left.
"Looks like you're done for the day," I said.
"Yeah, done for today. I'll come back tomorrow and rake up the mounds of weeds."
Weeds? Those were wildflowers, you murderer, I thought but didn't say.
"What about the other half of the field?" I asked. "Gonna get that tomorrow too?"
"Nah. Not as many folks attending this year's Golf Fest so half will be enough. Gotta be sensitive to the times." "Sensitive to the times?" I said, "Wouldn't that mean not destroying this gorgeous field of wildflowers and disturbing all the wildlife it supported." He stopped sweeping and looked at me hard. "What are you? Some kind of tree hugger?" "Not really," I answered. "I'm a full time citizen and a part time environmentalist." He snickered, and resumed sweeping. "Well, I'm a full time bread winner and I'm just doing my job."
I didn’t want to argue with the guy; after all, jobs are hard to come by. So I gathered a handful of decapitated flower heads and continued the discussion with myself as I walked home. Both sabotage—like nails in the field—and vandalism—like a deep ditch across the driveway or a gate that wouldn't open—crossed my mind. But two wrongs don't make a right. So maybe I could do a little research and uncover a violation of the Environmental Protection Act. I'd blow the whistle and a Cease and Desist Order would be issued. Then the Golf Fest attendees would have to take the trolley or the bus; busy Fashion Valley Transit Center was just across the street. Or maybe the River Run head honchos could work out a deal with the Fashion Valley head honchos to share the paved parking lots and garages, also just across the street. The field would be left alone.
A week's gone by since Golf Fest. The makeshift parking lot is now flattened stubble and tire-hardened dirt. Killdeer Lake has become dried, cracked mud. Here and there a few gazanias low enough to miss the mower blades open up like orange eyes in the brown field. Last night I think I heard a coyote, but it could have been a dog. Hawks don't perch in the eucalyptus tress anymore, but they sometimes circle overhead, screeching warnings. So far the rabbits haven't pushed the dirt out of their hole.
But it will all come back. The driving force of nature will always prevail over Golf Fests. Man can stymie nature, but he can not defeat it. As long as the winter rains soak the soil there will be a profusion of spring wildflowers. Coyotes will yip and yelp, hawks will perch and dive, insects will buzz and rabbits will multiply. By the time the tractor and mower arrive next year the yellow mustard will again be tall. But someday that high-rise could make it to the drawing board, and an army of machinery will arrive to do its job. Before that Armageddon, what could I do?
I decided to write this story.