Weeds and other natural highs

For once, I have the Daily Mail to thank. A couple of years ago, they told the tale of Barry, a giant polychaete worm discovered to be wreaking havoc in the coral tanks at Newquay aquarium. Inevitably, Barry provoked some of their readers into offering us their lentil-sized intellect; Sarah from Bournemouth's "What possible use is its existence?" being swiftly countered by RM from the Wirral's "We are all God's creatures."

As differently foolish as Sarah and RM are, they did get me thinking about vermin and weeds. Are they automatically perceived this way by us human beans, or is it just conditioning?

I was sitting in the backyard of my house in Newfoundland one Saturday afternoon last summer, basking in the sunshine and admiring the luxuriant foliage that had leapt upwards from what had been a snow-smothered bog just a few weeks earlier. What a fine selection of green and leafy plants we had, yet all of them would be classified as weeds by the ardent gardener, anathema to their notions of order and beauty.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then beholden upon your eye this photograph I took with a Macro lens attached to my camera:


A dandelion clock is simply beautiful. Compare it with the presposterous gaudiness of a rose, and argue logically and coherently that one is an ugly weed and the other a lovely flower. It cannot be done.

I admire gardeners. I admire their desire to fight futility, to impose order and control on botany, but not their inability to praise fashion over function.  I'd much rather wander a wild and weedy meadow than a meticulously planned garden.

As for the other type of weed, well, the idea that the authorities can make illegal something that grows naturally is just wrong.  But that's a blog in itself.  Instead, I shall move from weeds to vermin.

Literally, they are worms, the word coming from the Latin vermis, but we now use the term for any animal that humans find bothersome. And, as with weeds, the distinction between beauty and vermin is arbitrary and illogical.

Take the genus Columba. As a dove, it is a creature of beauty and grace. As a pigeon, it is a portly parasite.  But a feral pigeon is a rock dove, and when you examine one closely, it is nothing short of glorious, pouting and strutting in a shimmering irridiscence of green and purple.  Anyone arguing otherwise is an absolute Sarah-from-Bournemouth.

Talking of birds in seaside resorts, gulls get a bad press too.  But what kind of numpty is unimpressed by the Aberdonian individual that steals tangy cheese Doritos?  Gulls - and pigeons - might be rather too abundant in our towns and cities, but whose fault is that?  The same goes for crows.  Their familiarity breeds contempt, but as Esther Woolfson's wonderful book Corvus demonstrates, they are bright and brilliant creatures.

To prove all this once and for all, I'm going to set up my own zoo, supported by the as-yet-non-existent Society for the Promotion of Weeds and Vermin.  On display, there will be Barry the giant polychaete, an aviary of pigeons, gulls and crows, and a car park full of weeds.
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