Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day One Hundred Twenty

In my youth, growing up in the Lost Quarter, we battled another plague: the round leaf mallow. A weed as merciless as the grippe reborn.

Though common in other parts of the Quarter it was unknown where I was raised. How it arrived was unclear, though there were an untold number of vectors for the seeds. The clothes of visitors, the trucks of those picking up or delivering cattle, the animals themselves. Looked at that way its coming was as inevitable as the dread lord’s invasion of the Quarter. People are always coming and going everywhere, carrying who knows what with them.

The first year we noticed one or two in the pens and around the yard. An unfamiliar plant in amongst the usual weeds: kochia, dandelion, and thistle. How it had come to be there we had no idea. It grew low to the ground, spreading out with viney stalks topped by a ‘round’ leaf that looks like a poorly drawn heart. We thought nothing of it. There were always weeds and grass growing everywhere in the yard and around the corrals, and this was just one more.

Round Leaf Mallow

The following year the mallow had proliferated beyond imagining. There were carpets of it in places in the yard and some of the corrals. My grandfather declared them an enemy of the people and said that he would stop their incursion by any means necessary. One could as soon turn aside the tide as to cease their multiplying, but we tried.

My cousins and I were sent out into the corrals and the yard with paring knives and spades. The round leaved mallow has tenacious roots that must be dug out completely. Removing the leaves and stalks of the plant does nothing. They will grow back as thick as before. Any portion of the root that is left in the ground will eventually grow back into a full plant. The mats of it could choke out other plants, even grass leaving only the mallow growing on the ground.

Spring and part of a summer we spent cutting hundreds of the plants from the ground before they produced seed. We put each plant in garbage bags and burned them or took them to the dump, leaving no trace in the yard. Yet the next year they were back, as prolific as the year before. Mallow seed can remain dormant for decades, waiting for the right moment to grow, so no matter how much we cut away, more seed lay in the ground biding its time.

It was too late. The tide had turned without our noticing.

One would think that in the years since that the mallow would have overtaken everything. But weeds and grass are as tenacious as the mallow. A kind of equilibrium was found. In certain corrals and laneways the mallow predominates, in others it is absent. We have all long since ceased to notice its presence. It is just another plant that grows in the Lost Quarter, hardly worthy of a second glance.

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