Monday, May 29, 2006

Exotic



One of the delights in the late spring garden is Hespris matronalis commonly called Dame's Rocket. It's not a native wildflower here in Western Pennsylvania but is naturalized and so common that it's familiar to all. People around here call it Phlox, a wide variety of Phlox are native to North America. Dame's Rocket is not in the Phlox family. As common as Dame's Rocket is here, it's an exotic species from Europe and makes some lists of noxious and invasive weeds.

Dame's Rocket is a member of the mustard family so self-seeds vigorously, so may not be a good choice for more cultivated bedding schemes. Seeds for it are sometimes available. Often the seed packet will say "a good ditch plant" and that's about right. Ah, but if you've got a good ditch it's a great plant in these climes. At night in particular the fragrance is lovely, slightly clove-like as some carnations smell. Mostly when purchased the seeds result in deep lavender colored flowers and I prefer the softer tones produced on naturalized plants. Thompson & Morgan sometimes offers a white selection which I think are worth growing. The picture is white Dame's Rocket scattered from a packet of seed many years ago.

The exotic is often viewed with some trepidation, and that's probably a good thing. What's native is worth preserving and danger often lurks in replacing what's native with inferior foreign species.

A friend was recently musing about the history of lawns as the dominate landscape feature here in America. I don't know how that came about either. I do know that most of the grass species grown in farm fields and lawns are not native to North America. And that some native species that once covered vast portions of the prairie lands are now rare and some endangered.

I love wandering around the Internet, and particularly enjoy searching images. I understand why schools often block image searches--we all know how much pornography is out there--but I think it a shame nonetheless. I was searching "serpents" because the lyrics to Silvio Rodriguez's Sueno Con Serpientes--I Dream of Serpents--were swimming around in my head.
Oh, I kill one and a larger one appears, oh, with more hellfire burning inside!
I came upon this photograph from Pelle Evensens' Fractals. One thing led to another as so often happens when I come across something as exotic as Evensen's fractal serpent; in this case to Ron Eglash's book, African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design. Proceeding from articles about Eglash's work I discovered yet another contentious subject in the culture wars: ethno-mathematics. Oh, the exotic and the danger that might result!

I'm not a very accomplished person, really very ordinary. When I first went online I was so attracted to chat and all the news sources. I noticed that while I chatted with many people around the globe, I rarely encountered Africans. And from the news read about one tragedy after another on the African continent. So I looked for someone in Africa to chat with and met Nathan in Uganda. We don't really chat, as so far as I know Nathan doesn't use Instant Messaging, we've corresponded by email. I believe that good will come from people's dialogs around the world. But in my conversations with Nathan the danger in the exotic, the danger in an "us and them" view has been made manifest. Nathan and I do indeed talk, it's not that we are objects to one another. But cultural differences are no simple matter.

I have many favorite bloggers. I am always moved by the posts at Gukira. Keguro has a beautiful voice, I often enjoy reading his posts again just for the sounds and word play. His erudition also intimidates me sometimes.

Mostly my blog is accidental; I really had no idea what I was getting into and still don't. I put the Global Voices badge on my blog and somehow landed on the BlogAfrica feeds. I'm more than a little skeptical that the blog belongs. Global Voices asks: "The world is talking, are you listening?" "Listening" seems the most important, and all my talking makes me worry I'm not doing enough of that.

Recently Keguro wrote:
I'm more than a little tired of people who listen when I prattle on about recognizable names, objects, and subjects, and glaze over when I move into unfamiliar territory.
Glazed like a doughnut, I am, I am. Keguro's post asks, "what relationship does African and, more specifically, Kenyan blogging have with Euro-American blogging?" And he links to Nubian at blac (k) ademic. Common ground can't be discovered by ignoring the particular.

I want more Americans like me to pay attentions to events on the African continent. I want more of us to get to know African people. I have to be very skeptical of my desires here, because if I examine them the root is an interest in expanding freedom. I look at the current National rhetoric about "The War on Terror" with president Bush's resort to exposing "freedom" with some alarm. Freedom packaged and sent amidst bombs and guns; reports of kilings of innocents, isn't what I'm looking for.

The word "exotic" connotes unusual beauty. Nowadays people all over the world are constantly exposed to what is not indigenous, that which is foreign. There is great beauty in what we behold, but also concern for what may be lost because of it. What is beautiful and alive is fragile and worth protecting. We do little good in protecting a thing in itself, but rather in protecting the environment which nurtures it. I'm the last person in the world who knows what Africans need to do! I hardly know what Americans need to do. However we can pay particular attention to one another. Some say: "The devil is in the details." while others aver that "God is in the details." If we look hard enough perhaps we'll see both are right. What's left for us to do is to make judgments.

When Nathan and I write to each other, and in reading blogs in the African blogosphere, there's always so much I don't really understand. Making sense is always a work in progress. There's always a danger of tresspass, but caution needn't lead to trepidation. Give-and-take is an ordinary way to negotiate the terrain the world over.

2 comments:

jke said...

It is good to have you out there listening to (and reading) all those voices. I wish I had more time for this half of the blogging business...

Kenyananalyst said...

Interesting post!