Sunday, August 10, 2008

Giger in the Garden

Okay, I've been remiss in posting about writing lately. Mostly because I haven't been doing much writing; instead, I've been slaving over a hot computer, and then taking out my frustrations in the garden while I wait for various software vendors to figure out why their third-party widgets don't seem to be working in my (admittedly offbeat) application.

And, though I've been remiss, I'm afraid it's botany once again today.

Our back yard (or backyard, or back-yard) has a huge Ficus repens (vining fig) growing along the walls. These are the sorts of things that take over whole temple complexes in Southeast Asia, giving Indiana Jones something to clamber up or slash away at. They are extraordinary plants, but apparently sterile without their specific pollinating wasp (figs are generally pollinated by a species-specific wasp). As an act of bioterrorism, you could import that wasp to California. If these figs could propagate by seed, the whole of coastal California south of San Francisco would soon be swallowed up by these vines. The only solution would be to import orangutans (from that Bahasa orang "people" and hutan forest--forest people) who are big on chomping down figs. As it is, the fruits simply form hard, inedible little knots that dig into your feet when you step on them.

Our house--which had been left in great disrepair when we bought it--had vining figs leaning out as much as ten feet from the walls at the back of the property. I assaulted them and cut them back, but not far enough. Every so often, they rush out and try to overwhelm our house.


For those who can't quite envision this, here is Ficus repens over one of the benches on our deck. To get a sense of scale, the top of this seeming hedge is about ten feet from the ground.

Trimming never really worked on the more aggressive sections: they had branches thrusting out that were thick as your forearm. So this time, we decided to cut them all the way back to the wall, and henceforth attempt to keep them within a foot of the wall.

The result was something like this:


Well, okay, not really. But it might have been. If you were on acid. But my point is: it's really weird underneath there. These arm-thick vines wrap around one another, and where they cross they actually merge together; where once there were two thick vines, there is a unified "X".

In another twenty years, this will be a block wall encased in a solid wall of living wood.

In Thailand they are prone to play with the various ficus species in the ruins. In the ancient capital Ayutthaya, which was abandoned after the Burmese sacked it centuries ago, the locals are fond of picking up the decapitated heads of the thousands of Buddha statues and sticking them into ficus vines. After a decade or two, they appear to be part of the tree. Very picturesque (and in fact I have a picture or two of them).

A picture can't really do our back wall justice, especially since pictures need to be taken in the daytime. (At least if you have my camera, and my questionable level of skill.) But it's at night that the true, writhing, Hans-Rudi-Gigeresque, biomechanical force of these vines is apparent. I wish I could do better. But here's a mid-day photo of a portion of our back wall.

Too sunny, too bright, too Southern California. But trust me: after dark, it's one-third Giger, one-third Poe, and one-third HP Lovecraft.

I only feel safe at all because I'm the guy who waters them. They need me, right? (And is "they" the right term? I'm not sure how many plants there are. Maybe only one.)

On the other hand, once they are this well-established, they don't need much water...

7 comments:

Tim Stretton said...

Hmmm... in their intractability, their incorrigibility, their formless interconnectedness, they strongly resemble my current work in progress...

David Isaak said...

If your work in progress is anywhere as formidable as these vines, you will soon have a stranglehold on the publishing industry, even if your book doesn't fit the conventional mold. Slow, subtle, and interweaving is powerful stuff.

Jen Ster said...

Gee, those guys look a lot like the English ivy vines that hung out in front of my house in Arizona for years. Come to think of it, one of my cats disappeared and I never did figure out what happened to it. Hm.

Alis said...

Hi David - what does it say about me that I barely noticed the hacked-back vine in that last photo, so much was my eye drawn to your pool...?
Mind you once I'd stopped fantasising about the sun and the probable warmth of the water, I imagined the heat as you slaved to cut back the vine and I had to go and sit down somewhere cool!
Hope you have time to get back to the novel soon - with all this software wrangling you must be missing it.

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David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

Many feline disappearances can probably be traced to sinister foliage...

David Isaak said...

Hi, Alis--

Water temp roughly 78 F. Air temp varies between 75 and 95 F, but it's been so dry this year that ten minutes without water mummifies you.

Yet no more than thirty feet away in our front yard is a spot that never dries out, and over to the left of the pool is a little pond, complete with croaking frog. (His success at finding his ladylove has not been great.) Out front there is a cactus garden. Actually, the house is kind of like a theme park, a mini-California. If we just had a little snow-skiing and the Hollywood sign, we'd never have to leave the yard.