Hard Work and Invasive Species

mesquite 2A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place.
~ George Washington Carver

The crew was clearing the Texas ranch of mesquite trees, using a bulldozer and drag chain. Then the small group of “illegals” would pile up the small trees and brush for burning. It was dirty work, and between the heavy equipment, fires, thorny mesquite branches, scattered cactus and rattlesnakes, it was pretty dangerous. The smoke and burning brush compounded the incessant heat of a late Texas August.

We watched from our dad’s truck for a while, then, convinced that getting a college degree was important, continued to a nearby spring-fed lake for fishing.

Mesquite are an invasive plant that was brought north from Mexico into Texas by the massive cattle drives of the 1800’s. Mesquite beans, their seed, require gestation in an ungulate digestive tract. Deer and other wild creatures spread the seeds in their local areas, but the cattle were driven hundreds of miles north, carrying the now-fecund mesquite seeds with them farther out of their natural range. Ranchers dislike the short, thorny semi-trees and try all kinds of methods to clear them out and create or restore open range. The brushy trees make it hard to find and herd cattle, and they resist the easier routine clearing of cactus to make way for grasses.

I find it ironic that, at that time, the invasive mesquite was responsible for attracting the “invasive” illegal immigrants from Mexico. Most working ranches had a small community of “illegals” who were glad to do the dirty work, such as clearing mesquite for little pay, in exchange for a chance at a better life. [At that time, the illegal migrants in Texas were called ‘wets’ or ‘wetbacks’, a demeaning term in recognition of their having to swim or wade across the Rio Grande to enter the US from Mexico illegally.]

Earlier, the poor-quality lignite coal mining in that part of Texas had attracted Italian immigrants, who did the dirty work and then ultimately became a part of the community. I remember my first exposure to “real” Italians in the small Italian restaurant in a small Texas town, where my tax lawyer father knew the owner’s whole family. The food was incredible and nothing like the Pizza Hut or Chef Boyardee meals I had experienced back home.

Much later, I lived in a small town in Northern Arizona where the best restaurant for fifty miles around was a Chinese place started by the descendants of the Chinese workers who helped build the railroad back in the 1800’s. I soon learned that every town along the railroad had at least one Chinese restaurant, usually the best place in town to eat.

Once, driving across Nevada to the west coast, I stopped at a small town and the motel desk clerk recommended a good café for dinner. I was surprised to find it was a Basque restaurant, where red wine was served in tumblers and the lamb was fresh and delicious. I learned that the Basque were imported from Spain and Portugal to manage the flocks of sheep that roamed the empty spaces in Nevada. Despite the lonely life on the desert, their families grew and sought a better life in town.

A few years ago, we were collecting native grass seed on a bench along the Front Range in Colorado. A mile or so to the west, the Rockies abruptly thrust up out of the plains, stair-stepping over to the Continental Divide. To the east, the horizon faded into the haze of distance. We were careful to collect the native grasses, but avoid all the weeds and invasive plants present. My botanist friend noted that the particular mix of plant species native to the ecologic zone we were in didn’t exist again to the east until you got to Illinois. This was a remnant of the gradual geologic erosion of the Great Plains as the glaciers receded after the last Ice Age. Shifts in the climate had changed the environment, and were still doing so.

Of course, the Earth’s climate is continuing to shift; but now we know that human actions are accelerating the changes. Now, we see climate impacts and changes in the vegetation — as it gets hotter and drier, plant communities are moving north and to higher and higher elevations to find livable temperatures and levels of moisture.

The changes are happening world-wide and will continue to cause shifts in the populations of all living things, plants, animals and man. Scientists report changes and relocation in forests, grasslands, mangrove swamps, and even coral reefs. The accelerating climate changes are affecting water availability and food sources, and causing human populations, too, to migrate to friendlier climes.

While some climates may be environmentally friendlier to people — not all are politically friendly. And that is something we need to change. I think about the “illegals” of my childhood and the thousands of migrant workers that have come to the US over the years to do the hard work that needs to be done but that most Americans won’t touch … our current government wants to punish the workers, yet not the people that hire them.

It seems to me that anyone willing to do the hard work should be allowed to stay and make a place for themselves. But we need to get rid of those that break the law to hire them.

Maybe we need to deal with more than just the climate. Climate isn’t the only thing that can change.

“Like so many others in this century I found myself a displaced person shortly after birth and have been looking half my life for a place to take my stand. Now that I think I’ve found it, I must defend it.”

~ Edward Abbey, The Journey Home

One thought on “Hard Work and Invasive Species

  1. I grew up knowing and working with and around “wetbacks” in the Arizona desert. Most just wanted to earn a paycheck to send home to their families. Good, hard working people. Not criminals. Not gang bangers. Not drug runners. Just people.


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