Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Off With Their Heads!

And their little feet, too!

Yes, that rather innocuous looking flower is a thug.

Garlic mustard (scientific name Alliaria petiolata, in the Brassicaceae* [Mustard] family) is an invasive cool weather biennial common in Midwest woodlands. It's related to mustard, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, sweet rocket, stocks, and many other commonly known plants; as you might guess, it's also edible, with a garlicky scent and flavor (although I can't vouch for the taste as I've never tried it).

But the key word in the previous paragraph is invasive. Garlic mustard is quite aggressive; in fact, the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society considers it one of the ten most destructive invasive plants in Indiana. It begins growth in very early spring. As a biennial, the first year it forms a rosette; the rosette often remains green throughout the winter and the leaves can photosynthesize whenever the temperature is above freezing. The second year, the rosette shoots up, flowers, produces hundreds of seeds, and dies.

As a non-native plant, it has few natural enemies and easily outcompetes many of the native spring wildflowers, threatening them and the wildlife that depends on them. It can also pop up in your own yard, crowding out the flowers you may be trying to grow. In some forests it's taken over, shading out and destroying most of the native plants. Go to this link and scroll down to see some photos showing just how thick it can get.

Obviously it's a problem.

What can you do? Participate in garlic mustard pulls (many communities, conservation organizations, and parks sponsor these); if you find it in your own yard, cut it at the base (during flower stalk elongation only or it will simply resprout), or pull the plant entirely (make sure to get the roots, although they tend to pull out easily). Educate yourself and others. Help stop this plant.

Garlic mustard, early spring rosette

flower stalk elongation beginning

flowering plant

Here are some links for further information:

close up of flower, showing the classic cross-shaped petal arrangement for which the Mustard family is known

*(or, if like me, you learned your botanical families some years ago, the Cruciferae family)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Next Chapters

I posted a bit about mom's battle with cancer here. It's been a rough haul from the start, and she's been a trooper. But.

Last week at the doctor we heard what we expected to hear sooner or later: chemotherapy is too much for mom's body (the one treatment of gemzar she had in March knocked her flat and she's still struggling to regain some strength) so there's nothing more they can do. Any further treatment will destroy what quality of life she might have without treatment, so that leaves us looking at hospice and the accompanying options. A difficult and emotional time for all.

Mom alternates between a couple of extremes: realizing that her time is limited while taking a philosophical approach to it: "After all, I'm 88, I've lived longer than a lot of people;" and forgetting what the doctor told her and thinking she's going to get better. And she can land many places between the two.

There are some upcoming difficulties in addition to the obvious: I can't be here for her 24/7; my brothers can't fill in the gaps; my mother (at least so far) is adamantly, almost violently, opposed to hired people coming into her home; and she flatly refuses to go to a facility where they could give her good care.

Meanwhile, I watch her weaken, and forget, and remember again, and realize she's forgetting. I watch her determination as she struggles to do everything she can for herself, and I see and feel her frustration when she can't do what she knows she could do just a short time ago.

I admire her independence and spunk. It's what keeps her going and probably what's allowed her to have as much recovery as she's had. I try to learn from her; some of the things I've picked up, like the independence and spunk, have been with me a long time. Now I'm focusing on other lessons, lessons that may not be as direct. For example, I'm learning -- I hope -- graceful acceptance of things I can't control, a lot of which is happening in my own life
anyway. And I hope I remember these lessons as I face my own aging and health issues in the future. I'm learning more about compassion, and love, and I'm learning how to open my heart more.

I've been 24/7 with mom, more or less, for about six months. Stressful? You bet; although our relationship has been good in recent years, there's still some old mother-daughter stuff going on. But it's also been a blessing, and I've been really grateful for our time together.

However, I'm going to start working soon -- although rather than focusing on a professional job, where ever that might land me (and therefore delaying my potential
return to the Northwest), I'm looking at the possibility of a local, less professional position that I can quit on short notice if need be. At least that's my plan for today.

After we got the news about mom, I had to take about a week to regroup, sort through my emotions, my choices, and the things I have to deal with that aren't mine by choice but by circumstance. I still am not sure how things are going to unfold so there are some things I just have to let float. I'm trying to stay open to what's next.

I meditate often anyway, but recently added another piece -- something comforting, cobweb-clearing, physically and mentally renewing; it's hard work, and at times shear torture: yep, running! For me, that's actually running/walking. I'm not a natural athlete, and vigorous disciplined exercise, especially running, has always been difficult. But I've been drawn to running throughout my adult life, over and over, like a moth to the flame (no serious burns yet, though), and nothing else I've ever done has quite the same rewards, so I'm back at it. As the old joke goes, when people ask me why I run, I always say, "Because it feels so good when I stop!" And there are many levels of truth to that. I'm at my best in just about every way when I run. And right now I especially need all the best I have.

So, I run.

And I sit with my mom, hold her hand when I can, give her a tissue when she cries. Try to just listen if that's what she needs. Joke about the dog, rejoice in each new flower we find blooming in the yard, help her sort the mail and pay the bills.

And most of all, enjoy the moments we have.