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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Eco-thoughts, bad stories of our winter friends

I've been thinking about plants of late, probably because not only is it Spring but I'm also tasked with watering the estate while my landlord is off to a international plant symposium in Hawaii.

When I moved into the place more than four years ago, he had something like 5,000 plants of about 3,000 varieties, mostly bromeliads. He's since branched out into lots of palms, and I can't even begin to work on the count. Suffice to say that I'll be spending lots of time watering while he's gone.

But the plants prompted me to dig back through an old column that still seems to have relevance. It's a "chicken-egg" ecological question to ponder:

Should we, as stewards of the environment, intervene in an attempt to repair damage we have caused to the wilderness, or should we wait and allow nature to restore our human foibles?

An example will probably best illustrate the question.

Around the turn of the century, an ornamental plant called Brazilian pepper was introduced to this part of Florida. The plant has pretty green leaves and bright red berries and looked nice in people's yards. It was hardy, too, and grew quickly with little water or fertilizer.

The problem came when birds ate the berries and, er, I guess through "fertilization," eventually the red seeds were spread far and wide. In a short time, Brazilian pepper seeds were scattered throughout the state and began sprouting almost as quickly.

The pepper trees grew abundantly, and spread like a green fire through the native landscape. Nature abhors a mono-culture, and that single-plant environment was just what was created in Brazilian pepper forests. Native plants were crowded out by the invasive peppers, birds and other critters moved on without the usual food sources and peppers stood alone in a vast tangle in the wilderness.

Now comes the question: Should man go in with herbicides and chain saws and remove the plants, or should we just sit back and wait for nature to eventually reclaim the Brazilian pepper forests and turn them back into lush, native Florida landscapes?

It's a question without easy answers. Eco-purists say we screwed up the environment once by introducing a non-native species of plant, and any attempt to correct the problem will probably just mean that we'll screw things up even worse.

Eco-fixers say we made a mistake, and now we should go back and make things right. We have the knowledge, we have the technology, we have the can-do-itness, they say. Let's go!

Laying the ethical or moral questions aside, there is one other factor that could halt the "let's go!" contingent: It takes a lot of work to clear out Brazilian peppers.

It's not like you can go in with 50-gallon drums of Roundup and spray away. Beside the long-term environmental damage to the soil, herbicides don't work all that well on peppers. You've really got to go in and take 'em out a tree at a time with chainsaws, shovels and picks to effectively eliminate them.

"Labor intensive" is probably putting it mildly.

I guess the best answer to the invasive species question is one of not starting. If we hadn't planted the plants in the first place, we wouldn't have to worry about what to do with 'em.

So when you're shopping for your spring gardening shrubbery, think Florida. Native plants grow well, need little water or fertilizer, are easy to maintain and look nice. What more do you need?

Yikes!
This is one of those stories that you hope never to witness, hope never happens to your town, but probably, unfortunately, happens more that we'd like to admit.

Some buddies and I were at a local waterfront watering hole having a few adult beverages last week. A young couple came zipping up on a personal watercraft after a rental ride, and the proprietor of the business was there to meet them.

There was apparently one of those "oops" moments, as the craft lightly smacked into a piling. No hurt, no foul, but a bump.

The "bump" got loud as the young couple went up to settle their bill. Shouts. Bad words. My friend Bob went over to see what was going on, and came back with the report that the rental guy was hitting the young couple up for their $300 deposit to pay for the damage.

"That's ..." my other buddy Jack said, and we all trooped over to offer our comments.

Jack cut right to the chase. "I saw what went on, and if you give these people a hard time I'll rat you out," he told the watercraft proprietor, who was on the phone at the time.

"Yeah," he told the phone, "I've got these three guys giving me a hard time, they're all wearing flowered shirts," and then began to describe us. "I'm talking to the cops, man," he shouted at us all. "Don't run away."

We all looked at each other and shrugged. I spoke to the young, scared couple who turned out to be from North Carolina vacationing here, who were both cold and wet from the ride and upset because they couldn't get their driver's license or credit card back from the guy until the cops came.

Hostages, as it were.

The cops came, waved us off when we tried to offer our comments, talked to the guy and the young couple, and the North Carolina crew came over and asked for our phone numbers "if we're needed to testify in court," and left. Then one of the cops stopped by and waved Bob over, had a few words with him and left.

Bob came back grinning.

"So?" I asked.

"The cop asked what I thought happened. I told him I thought the personal watercraft rental guy was trying to scam the kids. The cop said, 'Yeah, that's what we thought, too.'"

Perhaps the case is closed.

The more I've thought of the incident, the more angry I've become. Sure, we're sometimes upset when we've got to deal with "the season," and sometimes say bad words about out winter visitors, but to out-and-out scam our winter friends' money is morally wrong, blatantly illegal, and an affront to those of us who live and work here.

For what it's worth, the personal watercraft business person wasn't around a couple of days later. I hope it was more than just a few days off for the likes of him.

Sandscript factoid
This isn't so much a factoid as a confession which will probably boot me out the Native Floridian Hall of Fame:

I like our winter friends.

For five years, I was the sole annual renter of a beachfront fourplex. I was there all the time: The other three units had a steady turnover of folks for a few days, a week, or a month. The place saw people from France, England, Germany, Canada, Australia, and from all over the United States.

There have been stories in The Islander about short-term rentals and the horror that it brings. I never saw it where I was, and grew to kinda enjoy the people who came to visit. To quote my British landlords, the guests were for the most part "lovely."

In all those years, there were only two incidents that were less than lovely: A crew of people from Texas, who were convinced that I'd broken into their apartment and broken a mirror, and a bunch of Aussies who left a fistful of .22-caliber shell casings in the garbage disposal.

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