National Geographic : 2013 Dec
tumbleweeds 137 then lie in wait, preparing for the next wave of the invasion. With the spring snowmelt and the first sum- mer rains on the ranch, thousands of Russian thistle seeds began to erupt into the sunlight, ap- pearing against the brown earth like tiny blue- green stars. They looked so pretty and innocent, the young ones, basking in the sun. Then they began to transmogrify. In a few days they were the size of my hand, their rubbery, purple-veined fingers pulling back troll-like as I tried to yank them from the ground. They weren’t yet ready to go. In another week some of the plants had grown as big as bowling balls. Knowing they would soon double and triple in size, we hacked them with hoes, loaded them into the back of my Jeep, and hauled them to the dump. Two weeks later they were back again. Throughout the summer we would spend most Saturdays stuffing 40-pound trash bags with the latest crop, trying to interrupt the ancient cycle by preventing the young plants from setting seed. I’d canvass every square foot of the property, and one week later I’d have to do it all over again. Salsola was everywhere. For the next few months the weeds and I fell into a cycle of prey and predator, and I acquired the instincts of a hunter. The tiniest glimmer of Salsola would catch my attention, and I’d have to chop a whole patch dead. I tried mowing them down with a weed whacker, burning the babies with a propane torch. I tried herbicides— chemotherapy—that were supposed to suppress the seedlings before they sprouted or disrupt the metabolism of those already born. No remedy was more than marginally effective. Salsola was always a step ahead. Soon I found myself spending hours with books like Weeds of the West and Fundamentals of Weed Science. There is satisfaction in getting to know an enemy: its habits, its ethology—sometimes, it seemed, its psychology. By now I was sure the plants had learned to hide from me, hunker- A couple of tumbleweeds make their way across the top of a sand dune near Sand Springs in Monument Valley. Round and lightweight, a single tumbleweed can roll for miles, scattering thousands of seeds along the way. Come springtime, a new crop will grow.