By Tommy Clarkson from the February 2011 Edition
Intellectually, I know it’s not my fault. But my botanical emotions are a complete and total wreck. I feel that I have failed in my duties and, as a result, upon my psychological shoulders I wear something akin to the guilt-ridden mantle of parental responsibility shirked. My self image is beyond contempt, wholly without any possibility of redemption and akin to the lowest of life forms. Why so? I may have been an unwitting party to palm infanticide.
Oh, sure I strive to convince myself that my beautiful baby, with the luxurious, ruffled fronds and once proud, firm, trunk was already gone . . . or, at worst, my actions may have been merely a necessary, mercy killing. Nonetheless, I feel I shall never be whole again.
As we age and hopefully mature (read, “become – frustratingly – older”!) most have special places in our hearts for children, grand children and great-grandchildren. Beyond that, many also find they’ve significant, and highly emotional, feelings for their pets. For me, these days, my babies are my tropical plants, flowers, and most of all, my delightful array of palms.
Some would justify my actions by saying that those beastly beetles of the palm boring sort had already viciously violated my magnificent palm tree “child”. But that salves not my horrible, bad-parenting, guilt that I should have somehow seen signs, read symptoms of some sort, anticipated the worst and taken preventive actions. But I did not. And I’m purported to be the reasonably knowledgeable “Palm Guy!” How could I have let such a thing to happen?
So similar to Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart” have been the last several hours. I feel as if the world can sense and see my terrible guilt. Trying to remove the cankerous death, not along ago, I frantically scratched, chopped, sliced and dug into the pulpy palm trunk flesh – made a watery mush by these damned bugs from hell. As I did so, the slight brushing sounds of the drying, limp palm fronds, above me, harkened of happier days we’d shared.
Perhaps worst of all, this was my prize specimens! It was one of those I am studying, writing about and carefully documenting as I perceive them to be a heretofore unacknowledged variety of Washingtonia from Arabia – distant cousins of the W. filifera and W. robusta from north western Mexico and southern California. Indeed, my ultimate intent is to present these studies to the International Palm Society so as to show them to be a yet unrecognized variety on a wholly different continent. Thus, this baby and its siblings are, indeed, precious to me!
Of the seven I’ve grown from seeds – plucked from beneath their parents in the hot dryness of Iraq – this beauty (at not much more than three years of age) had already sported a trunk girth (the diameter on the outside of the neatly, short cut, fronds at its base) of well over seven feet. And, it was already nearly 18 feet tall. Of the three in the grouping I’d planted to replicate the first ones I found in Iraq, it was significantly the biggest, best and brightest!
As I gently cut off each of it well over fifty, once beautiful palmate, fan palm fronds the vicious, curved, barbs tore at my hand, arms, scalp and face. But, who was I to complain? Perhaps, it was protesting this ultimate indignity. My heart hurt far more than my body’s scratches, tears and minor lacerations. But one burning thought emerged, though I may eulogize the passing of my palm tree child, I would be sorely remiss should I not warn others of that which led to this horror – Palm Beetle Borers. Beware, my fellow pals of plants, of these burrowing, bastard, bug beasties!
Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation - Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.