Friday, November 23, 2012

Retreat -- Not Surrender

For seven years, I have been battling sand burrs! I got acquainted with them early in our first winter season in south Texas. We parked in an asphalt drive-thru site, and the weather was delightfully warm. I rushed outside barefoot, and quickly and painfully discovered those pesky, omnipresent little stickers. Since that encounter, I’ve worn shoes.

Several years later, we leased an RV site in a park and immediately made arrangements to have it covered with concrete. "There," I thought vengefully, "that will fix those sneaky sand burrs. We’ll bury them under nearly 4 inches of concrete." And so, we did!

Our concrete slab did bury the sand burrs underneath but it did not phase the sticky little devils elsewhere. Walking across the "infield" of the park, the sand burrs jumped with joy as they attached themselves to the hems of my pants and especially my shoes. If I did not take the time to stand outside the door and painstakingly dislodge every one of the spiny little things, they soon infested the rugs inside our house. From the rugs, when we weren’t looking, they jumped into the towel drawer and the clothes closet. Changing clothes sometimes became a stickery experience!

I hadn’t realized how thickly their roots entwined under the soil, invisible to the eye. We decided to plant some starts of a native plant – called "frog fruit" – behind our rig. Several species of butterflies choose this plant to harbor them in one stage of their development, and we wanted to encourage the growth of those fluttering little gems.

 To prepare the area for planting, I spent weeks pulling and digging out sand burr roots. I could hardly believe the length of some of those roots; several were longer than I am tall! And they are tough, clinging stubbornly to the underground pathways through which they have grown. Often, after I had tugged and pulled out several feet of root, it would break and I realized that I had lost that battle because the remaining root was sure to come up again!

We planted our "frog fruit" and it quickly took root and grew. We were delighted with our lovely patch of plants with their tiny green leaves and white flowers. But it wasn’t long before the sand burr shoots began to appear, up through and above our plants. I pulled them out, and back they came! I cleaned them out again, and they came back even thicker. And, to complicate the problem, their stems looked a lot like the stems of our dear little "frog fruit."

Every fall, when we return to our winter home, there is a bumper crop of sand burrs choking out our flowers. It takes me at least a week or two to clean them out so the "frog fruit" can breathe. Then those persistent little pricklers are back before I can get rested up enough to attack them again!

This year those viney spiny little intruders killed off about half of our little flowers! I realized that, while they are invading and growing 24/7, I was only able to pull and dig them out about 2/3. Clearly, I was losing my war with sand burrs!

So, I came up with a new strategy: I let the sand burrs have the area they had cleared. There they can battle the lawn mower. But, for us, I fenced off an area of healthy "frog fruit" plants. I even stole a few healthy plants from the sand burr territory and transplanted them into my protected place to try to encourage the struggling plants there. I will NOT give up my war against sand burrs! So, this new arrangement may be retreat, but it is NOT surrender!