Friday, July 21, 2006

Ulex europaeus

When we first came to summer here in the west of Ireland, a neighbor's horses grazed on the gorse in the acre behind the house and kept it low and tidy. The horses are gone now and the gorse is out of control; we are surrounded by an impenetrable six-foot-high forest of prickles and yellow blossoms. Oh yes, when the gorse and heather are in bloom together it is a sight to see. When the great Swedish naturalist Linnaeus first saw gorse and heather in bloom on an English common he is said to have fallen to his knees and thanked God.

It was Linnaeus, of course, who taught us the interconnectedness of life. Simply by inventing a regular way of naming creatures -- species, genus, family, order, class, phylum, kingdom -- he made it obvious that plants and animals are not the inventions of a whimsical and arbitrary god, but rather a web of astonishing order.

Well, gorse by any other name would be just as combustible. Our worry is that the hill will catch fire and the threat to the house is too awful to contemplate. So year by year I struggle to cut it back a few more feet, sparing the heather wherever I can. The two plants -- purple and gold -- love to cohabit. To our mind they are Beauty and the Beast.