Saturday, October 13, 2012

Welcome to the jungle.

When I was little, I had three VHS tapes of National Geographic specials for kids. They each focused on a different region of the world, ecosystem documentaries narrated by a little animated Earth, googley eyes in the Arctic Circle and arms stationed somewhere in the Mediterranean and the far East, respectively. I can't remember for sure what the third video was about – the desert maybe, or the Savannah – but I know for certain that the first two were about the oceans and the Amazon rainforest. 

I must have watched these videos at least three times a week. Between them and my copy of The Last Unicorn, they comprised most of the cinematic entertainment of my childhood. The ocean one has permanently damaged my sense of adventure: knowing what horrible slimy spiky toxic things live in the reefs has forever disenchanted me with the supposed magic of the ocean. There have been times in my life when I have been handed the opportunity to go snorkeling or diving in a reef and I had PTSD-like flashbacks of that Nat Geo video and my whole brain just goes NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE and I recoil onto the deck of the boat in terror conniptions. 

But it's the Amazon video I remember best. In the first moment that I saw that video, I sat huddled in horror, staring at the TV, resolving to never ever go into a rainforest of any kind. 

The little animated Earth prattled on excitedly about things like leaf-cutter ants and how all the plants fight each other for a little patch of sun in order to survive. It's like a botanical version of The Hunger Games, except in slow motion and all the characters photosynthesize instead of angstily starve. 

Having grown up in the midwest, agressive plant life was never something I encountered, which made the video all the more horrifying. We had things like pine trees and aspens and the occasional wild raspberry bush, which, while equipped with thorns, was not precisely the Terminator of the plant world. 

Then I moved to New Orleans, and everything I knew about our leafy friends was turned on its head. 

This week, I've been putting up Halloween decorations. I have this faux bloody cloth thing that I staple up around the edges of my house, right under the hip-high eaves, so it looks like my house is bleeding or something, because only at Halloween is it acceptable to transform your home into the set of a horror movie. In order to staple up my bloody decor, I needed to remove some of the vines that crawl up the side of my house. 

Now, I used to really like vines. When I was first looking for a place to live here in the Big Easy, I thought, "Oh, how neat would it be if I got to live in one of those old antebellum manor homes with ivy growing up the walls? It looks so classy and historical."

I got my wish. There are lines of ivy growing up the front and side of my house, but I don't think they're as cool anymore. I yanked on some of the vines beside my door so I could staple my decorations to the siding, and as about two feet of ivy pulled free, so did about two feet of siding. Now, this vine wasn't large. It was maybe a quarter inch in diameter, so it had absolutely no right to cling so hard to my house that it's removal also removed pieces of my house

Terrified that the plants might pierce the walls of my bedroom and strangle me in my sleep, I went on a botanical murder spree with my sheers, severing every length of vine from its root. I stopped only when I realized that my home is old enough that the tenacity of the vines might be literally all that's holding it up anymore. 

As evidence to this supposition, a couple weeks ago, while I was cleaning up a corner of the kitchen, I moved my cats' litter box to sweep behind it and found a vine growing out of my wall. 

Let me repeat that, because it bears repeating: I found a vine growing out of my wall. Because I often fail to think about things instead of just reacting to them, I immediately yanked on the vine. As it separated itself from the kitchen wall, it took significant portions of drywall with it. Now there is a long furrow of absent drywall across the side of the kitchen; I am loathe to think about whatever secret garden is flourishing behind my cabinets. 

If you've never lived in a house where you are constantly battling vines in order to ensure that you survive the night and don't have the lamest plant-related obituary in the paper, you probably think it's neat how vines send out feelers that just wildly spiral into space until they hit something they can grab onto. And it is neat, particularly in time-lapse video form. But let me show you what these feelers do after they've found something to latch onto: 


That is my kitchen window, several feet above where I extricated the drywall vine. That vine's feelers have latched onto the underside of my window, and are actively separating it from the panel below. What I'm getting at here is that these little, minute tendrils of plant are deceptively strong. Seeing as I can't actually reach this vine from the outside to viciously murder it, God knows how far it will force its way into my home before I wake up trapped in its hungry clutches, unable to move, waiting immobile as it crushes me and sucks all the nutrients it can from my Easy Mac-infused system. 

I am now in the midst of an ardent search for some sort of vine-killer. Maybe not a completely killing vine-killer, since it might be the primary load-bearing structure in my house at this point, but something to stunt its growth by incredible measures. Like the opposite of Miracle Gro. The equivalent of coffee and cigarettes in tweens, but for hauntingly aggressive plant life instead.  

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