Thursday, March 22, 2007

There is a grandeur in this view of life

In previous posts from this tropic island, I have extolled the virtues of native plants and scolded those among my neighbors who douse their plots with pesticides. Now a confession: I'm not a friend of all native species.

Two plants are a scourge. Bur grass, which is prodigiously reproductive and the bane of bare feet. And love vine, which sends out bright orange feelers that crawl across the sand until they find a leafy plant, then, turning themselves into a tangled mass of gaudy tendrils, suck the life out of their victim.

For months my wife and I have relentlessly ripped up these plants, knowing full well that when we return nine months hence they will have reestablished themselves and the battle will begin again.

What to do? Let nature take its course? Bring in the Ortho?

Some time ago I read about a roboticist (in Florida, I think) who created a robot named Chew Chew that gets its energy by eating food -- microbial fuel cells digest carbohydrates, converting them to electricity. Another English team has created a similar robot that feeds on garden slugs. Now that's what I need, a robot that will stay on patrol all year round, gobbling up the bur grass and love vine...

...and garden slugs, and geckoes, and frogs, and coco plums, and bougainvilleas, and the neighbor's tomatoes, and the neighbor's cat, and...

Isaac Asimov is known for his three laws of robotics: 1. A robot may not injure a human being. 2. A robot must obey orders, except in violation of the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence except in violation of the First and Second Laws. Well, yes, that's well and good, but the thrust of robotics these days is to create robots with minds of their own -- like bur grass and love vine.

In the last analysis, it's us against them, a Darwinian struggle for existence. Certain of my neighbors douse and spray. My wife and I will continue our hand-to-hand combat. We get older -- and wearier. One day you will find us here, wrapped in thick shrouds of orange tendrils, partially digested, fists full of bur grass, defiant to the end.