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  • Bouncing across a scene, tumbleweed establish the Wild West as Western.

  • But more than just props, tumbleweed are real and tumbleweed are alive.

  • Well, they were alive.

  • Each tumbleweed starts as a tiny seed on the craggy landscape.

  • Putting down roots, up branches, opening flowers,

  • and, through the miracle of life, birthing seeds.

  • Itty bitty baby tumbles-to-be.

  • Now, dropping these seeds straight down

  • won't give the tumble tots their best head start,

  • so what's a parent plant to do but sacrifice their life for their children?

  • To intentionally starve themselves, to die, and to dry,

  • to catch the wind, to shuffle off this mortal coil,

  • to bounce across the land, to chance their children to find fertile ground,

  • to root, to sprout, to grow, to flower, to continue the circle of life.

  • It's beautiful, really.

  • These humble tumble rolling across the West

  • in search of empty land to colonize

  • are as iconically West as Westerners westerning.

  • Because neither are natives.

  • Before the 1800s there were no homesteaders and no tumbleweed in the West.

  • Tumbleweed are an invasive species, and a deeply unwelcome one.

  • It's time to get real about the Trouble with Tumbles.

  • Now, you might be thinking

  • If the West is mostly empty and tumbleweed arrived and survived...

  • What's the big deal? They're kind of nice.

  • And you know what, you're right, kind of.

  • Tumbles are like snow, a little is charming.

  • But a lot is a problem.

  • And a lot a lot, dangerous.

  • Tumbleweed stick to things, and each other.

  • One stuck tumble becomes two, ten, a tumulus.

  • The American interior has vast swaths of land,

  • and after a tumble terrain takeover,

  • one big windstorm can drown a village under thousands of the things,

  • with people quickly finding their roads,

  • and vehicles, and even homes inaccessible.

  • If you've never seen tumbles on the move,

  • or the aftermath of that, it's unreal.

  • And though a tumble drift looks like a brown snow drift,

  • this snow is full of thorns.

  • If you're thinking of a rose, think again.

  • On tumbles, it's all thorns.

  • Brittle to to break off in your skin, or horse-kin, where it can fester.

  • Clearing tumbleweed isn't just painful but also infuriating:

  • a tumbleweed drift is both bouncy and sticky.

  • You're going to have to fork them, one at a time.

  • Tedious at best. Sisyphean at worst.

  • You might want to use industrial equipment, but be careful.

  • Tumbleweed are shockingly flammable.

  • Dry and airy but still branch dense they are min-maxed kindling.

  • A tumbleweed will go up in flames way fast and burns way hot.

  • More on that later.

  • But even if you manage to clear the town

  • and all the open land around the town,

  • a single missed seed contains the next tumble torrent.

  • For while many plants use flowers to attract bees

  • to cross-pollinate and reproduce, not tumbles.

  • Their flowers have nothing for bees.

  • Instead exploding pollen directly into the wind

  • (hope you don't have allergies)

  • to cross pollinate.

  • And tumbles don't need two to tango. A lone tumbleweed can fu-pollinate itself.

  • So that single missed seed will grow up to be a tumblin' weed

  • containing tens of thousands of seeds,

  • hundreds of thousands if it gets large enough.

  • A single tumble tumbling to town one year

  • leaves a tumble trail the next,

  • and an exponential explosion thereafter.

  • And then there's the danger to agriculture.

  • Which brings us to the start of this.

  • A time before tumbleweed in America.

  • And a time before homesteading.

  • It's the 1800's and the start of Westerners westerning.

  • Building their first farms and tiny towns.

  • Growing enough food to feed the adolescent nation was vital.

  • Nearly everyone's job had to be farming.

  • And the newly created Department of Agriculture had the job

  • of writing pro-tips on how best to do that,

  • along with collecting seeds and samples from the new continent.

  • Which is how all was normal, until one day a letter arrived for DOA.

  • (as South Dakota) Heeeeeey, there's this a tumblin' weed giving us some trouble.

  • Can you come take a gander?

  • (as Grey) And so she did.

  • Arriving to find South Dakota in bad shape.

  • A weedy infection rapidly developing, damaging the food supply.

  • These new weeds stole ground nutrients for themselves

  • before crops could even be planted,

  • or they would grow in between crops choking them out.

  • During harvest they hurt the draft animals

  • and clogged or broke the newly mechanized farm equipment.

  • Early estimates were crop losses of 20% because of the tumbles.

  • DOA tried to constrain the situation using education:

  • Wanted: Tumbleweed.

  • Kill on sight.

  • AKA Prickly Thistle

  • AKA Kali Tragus

  • AKA The Wind Witch

  • AKA The Russian Thistle.

  • This, by the way, is the motherland where the species is native.

  • And from where crop seed contaminated with tumbleseed probably came.

  • To arrive in South Dakota on perhaps a single farm to start the infection.

  • Which grew worse by the year.

  • And the Department of Agriculture's efforts to stop it were futile.

  • Way too much land. Far too few people.

  • Worse, this new land was tumble-topia (and still is).

  • See this run of rectangle states?

  • It's the Great Plains, abutting the Great American Desert.

  • An enormous stretch of land: flat, open, windy.

  • South Dakota's neighbors had no chance, nor neighbor's neighbors.

  • From patient zero: BOOM!

  • By the turn of the century, the tumbleweed infection covered the interior,

  • eventually spreading north to Canada and south down to Mexico.

  • America's mountains were a barrier for a while,

  • until tumbleweed hitched a ride on the

  • trains that had freshly connected the continent,

  • jaunting over the mountains west and east

  • to establish themselves in every spare pocket of empty land.

  • Oh dear.

  • But it gets better.

  • Back to fires, specifically prairie fires.

  • A nice big field of dry wheat is just begging to burst into flames.

  • The only early tech to stop fires was to build fire breaks,

  • physically stopping the flames with neat, straight,

  • vitally empty stretches of land the fire could not cross.

  • But more perfect tunnels for tumbles you could not make.

  • Even if the fire breaks were kept clear,

  • fire makes its own wind, sucking in cold air from

  • ground level to blow out hot, up and over.

  • Thus, transforming tumbles into fireballs to breach the break.

  • So started the first volley in the War on Tumbleweed.

  • But for the Department of Agriculture

  • to eradicate the infection from the interior farmland and towns

  • where they did the most damage

  • would mean not only catching every weed and seed

  • across a third of a continent

  • with the cooperation of two annoyed international neighbors,

  • but also finding every patch of infection across the mountains in the other two thirds.

  • An impossible task.

  • So, uh, that's why tumbleweed are still here.

  • And have been around for so long and in such numbers.

  • People forget there was ever a before time.

  • But not the United States Department of Agriculture.

  • From the 1800s to 1900s,

  • to 2000s, still trying to rid America of the weed.

  • But so far without success.

  • That is the trouble with tumbles.

  • [playful country rockabilly music continues]

Bouncing across a scene, tumbleweed establish the Wild West as Western.

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風滾草的煩惱 (The Trouble With Tumbleweed)

  • 6 0
    林宜悉 發佈於 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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