The prob­lem with evil forces

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

My smart­phone is ru­in­ing my sum­mer. Though the weather has never been bet­ter dur­ing my sea­sonal sec­ond­ment to the Coro­man­del Penin­sula – where we’ve been blessed with blue skies, pop­corn clouds, and cerulean seas promis­ing pan-fried snap­per sup­pers – I’ve been start­ing each day with a sigh.

When my hus­band went back to work a month ago, I stayed at the beach – porta­bil­ity be­ing one of the perks of a free­lancer’s lot – with the kids, the dog, and a bunch of dead­lines to slot in be­tween slip, slop, and slap­ping. Thus, de­spite not be­ing a morn­ing per­son, I’ve taken to get­ting up early to get my work done, nudged awake by the gen­tle vi­bra­tion of my cell­phone alarm. (I need a silent alarm so as not to wake my chil­dren, or the dog, who equates any form of ear­ly­morn­ing eye con­tact as an in­vi­ta­tion to jump on me.

Phone in hand, I qui­etly check the weather fore­cast and my Face­book feed, then ruin my day read­ing the lat­est in­ter­na­tional news head­lines. A couple of years ago, I filed a mis­guided col­umn com­par­ing Is­lamic State to the worst weeds in my gar­den. But let the record show that when it comes to po­lit­i­cal crack­pots, I’m an equalop­por­tu­nity of­fender, for when I woke last week­end to the news of Don­ald Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der on im­mi­gra­tion, I thought im­me­di­ately of nox­ious con­volvu­lus.

Many years ago, NZ Gar­dener pub­lished an ar­ti­cle about a vis­it­ing artist – an Amer­i­can painter, if mem­ory serves me cor­rect – who, much to the amuse­ment of lo­cal gar­den­ers, set up her easel next to a power pole stran­gled by a bloom­ing tan­gle of blue morn­ing glory (Ipo­moea in­dica). This con­volvu­lus species is a in­va­sive thug here; else­where it’s an an­nual trea­sure, its pesti­lent ten­den­cies kept in check by the cli­mate.

In New Zealand, con­volvu­lus – or bindweed – takes no pris­on­ers in its rapid climb to the top of the canopy. Though the vines rarely set seed, even the tini­est frag­ment of run­ning stem can take root. This means that when you try to dig the vines out, you can end up do­ing more harm than good, as a sin­gle orig­i­nal vil­lain spawns a crowd of despotic dis­ci­ples.

Three years ago, con­volvu­lus came into my gar­den via a truck­load of free top­soil. In its first sum­mer it sent out a few snaking ten­drils; I didn’t recog­nise the se­ri­ous­ness of the threat. I ripped the vines out and biffed them over the fence into the pad­dock, from where they crawled back in, spread­ing faster than a ru­mour through my horn­beam hedge, snaking in­sid­i­ously through my herba­ceous bor­der, and chok­ing my Cer­cis ‘For­est Pansy’ trees.

And therein lies the prob­lem with evil forces. At first, they can seem fairly in­nocu­ous and, in the case of both moon-flow­ered con­volvu­lus and Don­ald Trump, slightly fas­ci­nat­ing. When Trump first an­nounced his in­ten­tion to ap­ply for the White House te­nancy, re­mem­ber how the more lib­eral among us laughed off his pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions as the mildly amus­ing rant­ings of a fake-tanned ty­coon with a grav­ity-de­fy­ing gin­ger bouf­fant and predilec­tion for fir­ing ap­pren­tices? But baby, just look at him now, sign­ing off ex­ec­u­tive or­ders like ‘‘Pro­tect­ing the Na­tion From For­eign Ter­ror­ist En­try Into the United States’’ to keep the bad guys (Mex­i­cans and Mus­lims, ap­par­ently) at bay.

In an ad­dress to the United Na­tions in 1963, the ex­iled Ethopian ruler and Rasta­far­ian mes­siah, Haile Se­lassie, a man who found him­self iso­lated by Ital­ian fas­cists, urged vig­i­lance. ‘‘The preser­va­tion of peace and the guar­an­tee­ing of man’s ba­sic free­doms and rights re­quire courage and eter­nal vig­i­lance: courage to speak and act – and if nec­es­sary, to suf­fer and die – for truth and jus­tice; eter­nal vig­i­lance, that the least trans­gres­sion of in­ter­na­tional moral­ity shall not go un­de­tected and un­reme­died.’’

If I have learned any­thing in my bat­tle against con­volvu­lus, it is this: you can’t just build a big wall or is­sue blan­ket decrees to pro­tect your bor­ders. ‘‘His­tory has shown these to be bad ideas,’’ said our hol­i­day­ing Ger­man guest, Han­nah, a girl born the same year the Berlin Wall came down, as we de­bated Trump’s pol­i­tics around our beach­side bar­be­cue ta­ble. She had an­other idea: ‘‘As­sas­si­na­tion does not seem so un­rea­son­able, yes?’’

For the con­volvu­lus, at least, Weed­busters rec­om­mends its erad­i­ca­tion through dig­ging and dis­pos­ing (at a refuse cen­tre), or cut­ting and paint­ing the stumps with glyphosate or met­sul­furon-methyl. But I’m be­ing ex­tra vig­i­lant, dab­bing the slashed stems with Vig­i­lant Gel, a dou­ble whammy of pi­clo­ram and aminopy­ralid.


Blue morn­ing glory is an in­sid­i­ous foe.

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