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The root of all evil 

We have been battling with a most vexatious weed in our yard. It seems capable of propagating anywhere, sprouting to a couple feet in height with incredible speed and agility. Its tenacious roots anchor defiantly in the soil, making it almost impossible to pull out. Grabbing the thing isn’t easy, either. It defies hand-to-hand combat, defending its turf with prickly, contorted leafs that get the message out to keep your distance.

Meanwhile, our little quarter-acre lot is run rampant with squirrels. And from the looks of things, they are as healthy and happy as can be. They’re going nowhere, content to obliviously dig up newly seeded grass or uproot lovingly planted flowers. They’re on a frantic mission to bury (and subsequently forget) their nutty treasures.

It took awhile, but we finally made the connection between the “weeds" and the squirrels. And I’m somewhat embarrassed to even admit it, given I have been living in California nearly my entire adult life and should be at least nominally acquainted with the native vegetation. But thanks to modern technology (i.e. a newly installed app on the phone) we were able to photograph and identify the plant.

It turns out the “weed” is actually quercus agrifolia, otherwise known as Coast Live Oak. These plants clearly haven’t been taking root of their own accord. They have had a little help from their bushy-tailed friends.

Our own mini-ecosystem in action.

Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So we took the time to laboriously replant one of the oak trees. We’ll see how well it grows with a bit of kindness instead of hostility.

Our enemy has become our friend, now that we have been educated to overcome our ignorance of what was once considered a foreign intruder.


Our humble harvest 

Throughout the summer and fall, we endured endless photos and postings from friends and family about their bountiful gardens.

We looked on in envy and awe at the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables that people seemed to effortlessly grow. Tomato plants the size of Christmas trees. Carrots that could double as police batons. Watermelons with such heft they require power machinery to hoist onto the table.

“We don’t even know what we’re doing,” they say, as though that should be consolation.

Or our favorite: “These cucumbers just sprouted in the compost heap.” Thanks. Now we feel better.

We bite our tongues, refraining from saying what we’re thinking.

That’s because there's something funny going on in our yard.
Everything we grow is stunted. Things ripen as they should. And they appear and taste normal. They’re just teensy tiny replicas of their respective species.

It’s not for lack of water. We’ve got drip irrigation and hoses everywhere. It’s certainly not on account of the soil. We’ve hauled in cubic yards of organic matter that’s so expensive they sell it by the ounce. Sunshine? Got plenty. As for tender loving care, we weed and till the ground and prune our leafy compatriots day and night.

Still, our harvest is on such a diminutive scale, we could fit it all in a doll's house.

Perhaps our little quarter-acre plot is some sort of self-contained ecosystem. Maybe the plants are adapting and evolving, using less resources to survive. It’s a well known phenomenon titled “Island Dwarfism.”

It certainly seems to apply to the plants. But apparently no one told the mammals. We’ve got more than our fair share of squirrels and they are as big, fat and happy as can be.