Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nature in suburbia

As spring hits its stride, vignettes around the neighborhood attract our attention.

The wind has been blowing for the past 5 days; two, three days ago it was all flailing palm fronds and snapping branches. And still the drone of leaf-blowers could be heard above the wind's own noise.

One of the necessary keys on the front gate touch pad is broken so newspapers haven't been arriving at the front door. "Waiting for a part" is given as the reason for delay. My son, knowing the vintage of all moving parts in our complex, suggests that a time machine would be the best means of acquiring the missing piece.

As the sun rises and sets, and often at random in-between moments, the wild parrots of South Pasadena lift en masse from their perches and shriek through the skies. There must be some reason or order for what they do but it seems more like the aerial version of citizens fleeing Godzilla. Their unique sound interferes with room-to-room conversations, drowns out a tv at reasonable volume and causes anyone on the other end of a phone call to ask, "What's THAT?"

Very like the celebrated Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, introduced to us in a documentary film of the same name, our flock are all lime green, the color most intense when the sun shines through their feathered wing tips or tails, which they fan as they bounce on the utility wires. As they venture closer to our windows, we see the red/orange on their heads and in prominent circles on their wings. I need to study their San Francisco counterparts again; that may help me understand whether they squabble as energetically as they seem to for a reason or if that is simply eccentric-appearing parrot behavior and not an indication of collected malcontents.

Nature in suburbia has taken a peculiar turn or two for us. Greatest oddity was the arrival of the voodoo lily. As I stepped through the patio door of our former home in Pasadena, it smelled as though a cat-sized (at least) animal had died and was decomposing under the bouganvilla. There had been no poisonous smell the night before. I noticed masses of flies, further confirmation of something quite dead. But they seemed to be clustered on a bit of curious flora rising amid familiar plantings.

Stepping closer, the creepy-looking, slowly unfurling flower was obviously the source of the great stink. Family members were gathered, closer looks taken, disgust registered. Calls to the LA County Arboretum and Huntington Library and Gardens resulted in a diagnosis: a voodoo lily was blooming outside our back door. The house had been in my family, at that time, for more than 20 years and no voodoo lily had ever been seen - or smelled - on the property.

The botanists we consulted said its bulb could have been long dormant, a bird could have carried a seed, none of the above. What they could tell us was that the odor would not persist; the flies would move on. The plant morphed through its normal stages over a period of days, never to appear again as long as we lived there. At the time, it had the aspect of an ill omen. My sometimes spotty memory no longer links its appearance to other unwelcome happenings, yet I am certain it was just one of several unpleasantnesses that carpooled into our lives.

In years since, we have seen television coverage of the blooming of what they call a corpse plant at the Arboretum. Video tape shows lines winding slowly past the potted oddity, interviewees taking pleasure in describing the off-putting fragrance. To think we could have charged admission.

And then there were the hours my father once spent poised with a hoe above a gopher hole, the patient hunter, if only there had been decoy gophers or some instrument to call them. The gophers always won, as did the snails on the mulberry bush, though we managed to outlast the voodoo lily. But never doubt that nature will always come out ahead. After all, it was here first.

1 comment:

Penny said...

I googled 'voodoo lily' and note that it is rather beautiful. Someone had kept one as an indoor plant until it flowered. Not a pleasant experience, I gather.

We have parrots here too - they're so lovely to look at I can forgive the noise, although we have one species, a rosella that makes a bell like chime, rather than a shriek.

"Nature will always come out ahead". We need to believe this, don't we?