Sunday, June 04, 2006

Working yesterday at a festival, I supervised the native plant table for about ten minutes. A woman, in her mid-forties, and her obnoxious son of about nine or ten began looking through the album of invasive plant species.

Woman: Is a bulrush the same thing as a cattail?
Maktaaq: I don't know. Maybe it is.
Woman: You're standing right in front of the cattail sign.

I looked down and - lo! - there was the cattail poster. I quickly scanned the poster for an answer to the woman's question. The rhizomes are nutritious, the pollen can be made into flour and the down can fill life vests.

Then I turned to a coworker and asked him. Yes, the answer was that cattails are bulrushes. British English has the bulrush being the cattail, whereas American English has the cattail as the cattail, the latter term more familiar to me - yet Canadians, when faced with British and American counterparts, should, by default, utilize the British one. The woman seemed triumphant.

Woman: So, if English ivy is invasive, then why do respectable nurseries sell the stuff?
Maktaaq: Most people don't know yet that ivy is crowding out native species.
Woman: But isn't ivy as bad as Himalayan blackberry? And why do plant stores sell blackberry plants when they're so bad.
Maktaaq: Well, some seed companies sell dandelions, for gourmet salads.
Woman: I know, I've planted dandelions, but they're non-flowering so they won't spread. And they taste terrible. So why do nurseries sell ivy? Isn't that unethical?
Maktaaq: I assume a lot of people still don't know that ivy is so bad, like kudzu in the early days.
Woman: Also, isn't ivy bad for houses? Why do people plant it? Isn't it bad of nurseries not to tell people about the dangers of ivy?
Son: Mom, enough with the talking! Look at the book with me! STOP TALKING!

I quickly moved to the puppet section. The wombat, bunny, aligator and other animal puppets seemed easier to handle. Then some guy came up to me. He was pushing a stroller; in his early thirties, he seemed toked one too many joints in his youth.

Stoner Dad: Where is the bat house tent?
Maktaaq: I don't believe there is a bat house tent at the festival this year. Let me look in the programme. Nope, no bat houses this year.
Stoner Dad: Is a bat house hard to make?
Maktaaq: I think you just have to make them pretty high.
Stoner Dad: But could you just use a birdhouse?
Maktaaq: Maybe, but you've got to remember that bats don't move like birds.
Stoner Dad: Are bat houses really hard to make?
Maktaaq: I don't believe so, there are lots of programs given by local naturalist groups on making bat houses - you might check the continuing education catalogues or community centres. Better yet, keep your eyes on newspapers because some groups only get exposure through there and their courses fill up fast.
Stoner Dad: What if I want to build my own bat house and I don't get into a course?
Maktaaq: There's lot of information online; that'd be the first place I'd look.
Stoner Dad: But aren't bat houses hard to make?
Maktaaq: They shouldn't be too hard to make.
Stoner Dad: Where do you think I could buy a bat house?
Maktaaq: Um, phone up the *local* Naturalist Club.
Stoner Dad: Gee thanks for the advice.

My bullshit quota was running low. I edged away from the puppet table and back to the kids' balloon craft table. Secretly, though, as a Transylvanian, I was pleased to be the bat house expert.

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