wild oats growing in the weeds
September 25, 2020
my first “awe” moment at the monument came before I even knew its name. Driving along the I-17 I looked out the window, and saw bone-white fields of what were likely wild oats (Avena fatua) stretching as far as the eye could see over pitch black mesas. They're a charismatic plant to me. Their seedheads all droop to one side like string lights, and if you stand level to a field of them, the wind gives them this flickering, glittery quality.
This is a bitter irony in that wild oats are an introduced species and a noxious weed, posing problems for the native grasslands of the mesas. Natural disturbances like drought and fire leave native stands of tobosa grass (Pleuraphis mutica) vulnerable to being succeeded by wild oats and other weedy grasses, before they can fully recover.
There's quite a lot of things I could say about being moved to pursue nature literacy by a place that's under ecological stress. And maybe also the realization that... well... those pretty plants that became the mesa today weren't the mesa of one, ten, a hundred years ago. Would I have felt the same if they were fields of tobosa grass? Probably. I certainly hope so, anyway. Tobosa fields are enchanting in their own right. (Not to say that they have to be aesthetically appealing or have any “value” at all to be inherently wonderful-- just doing my bit to encourage others to websearch pics of cool grasses.)
But I can't act like wild oats didn't play a role in nudging me along on that journey, just because they're weedy foreigners (like me.) Of late I have been trying to watch my language when talking about weeds and introduced species. (Another irony: while fact-checking this piece of writing, I had to read the phrase “asian invader” with my own two japanese american eyes.) There is nothing to moralize about a plant doing what a plant does best, just a hurt in the world that we inherit the responsibility to mend-- we who are settlers and guests.
But maybe all of that is a little intense for the silly game about weird ghost dogs. So it goes: two weedy souls, Heath and Dia, faffing about among the oats.