The Camel and the Green Menace

For an illustrated version, see pages 14-16 in The EnvironMentor, Oct -Nov 2015, vol. 4, no. 2.

The Camel's Nose:

One cold night, as an Arab sat in his tent, a camel gently thrust his nose under the flap and looked in. "Master," he said, "please let me warm my nose in your tent. It's cold and stormy out here."

"By all means," said the Arab, "and welcome." He turned over and went to sleep.

A little later the Arab awoke to find that the camel had put his head and neck into the tent also. The camel said, "I will take up only a little more room if I place my front legs inside the tent. It is difficult standing out here."

"Yes, you may put your front legs in," said the Arab, moving a little to make room, for the tent was small.

Finally, the camel said, "Why not let me stand entirely inside? I can hold the tent up with my back."

"Yes, yes," said the Arab. "Come wholly inside. Perhaps it will be better for both of us."

So the camel crowded in.

The Arab, very crowded, had trouble getting back to sleep.

When he woke up the next time, he was outside in the cold and the camel had the tent to himself. 




There is a proverb: Be careful of the camel's nose.

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The Green Menace

Once upon a time in Japan, there was a beautiful vine. Children played games with its big soft leaves. Cooks used the starch from its roots to thicken sauces and make vegetarian jello. Everyone loved its purple flowers that smelled as sweet as grape bubble gum. They called it "kuzu."

So when Japan built an exhibit at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, of course this pretty, healthy vine was featured in its garden. American gardeners liked it, too. They couldn't grow it through cold winters, but Florida farmers found that animals would eat the leaves. It thrived in the deep south. Americans called it "kudzu."

During the 1930's Depression and Dust Bowl, the Soil Conservation Service urged farmers to plant kudzu for erosion control. Railroads and highway departments also planted it to protect the steep cuts they had made in hillsides. It grew very well in all the states that had mild winters, coming back each year from tap roots up to seven feet long.

Kudzu did a wonderful job of protecting bare earth. Like alfalfa and clover, it could harbor nitrogen-fixing bacteria: it made its own fertilizer! It grew so fast that it covered weeds and shaded them out. All through the 1940's it was called a "miracle vine." People planted it throughout the south. And it spread on its own, rooting wherever a joint of vine touched down. What a wonderful vine!

By the 1960's people began worrying. Kidzu swarmed over bushes and trees, killing them by its weight and shade. It covered abandoned cars and buildings. Cows, horses, goats ate it down to the ground but it came back from the roots. Parts of the southern landscape began to look as if a gigantic green spider had spun her web over roadside trees and woodlots. Imaginative children, bored at looking for dragons in the clouds, saw dinosaurs in the kudzu. It grew so fast that a songwriter wrote, "Don't turn your back on the kudzu, my friend/ Or you-all might come to a terrible end."

Kudzu has even reached Oklahoma! Our hard freezes somewhat keep it in check, but invasive plant specialists are keeping a wary eye on the plant that people once welcomed and planted on purpose, but which can sometimes be too much of a good thing.

BTW, six years ago the Japanese Kudzu Bug arrived near Atlanta's airport and seems to be taking a toll on vine infestations. Farmers are learning how to graze animals on the nutritious leaves. Botanists point out that The Green Monster's need for strong sunlight usually restricts it to roadsides and clearings--where we notice it and worry--but it doesn't bother established forest (or swallow up cities). Maybe we can share our tent with this green monster after all.

Sources:

Folktale: based on "The Camel's Nose In The Tent"

http://camelphotos.com/tales_nose.html

"The camel's nose" is a metaphor for a situation where the permitting of a small, seemingly innocuous act will open the door for larger, clearly undesirable actions.

Fact tale: Kudzu Pueraria montana  var. lobata, http://www.okinvasives.org/#!kudzu/ci1b

"Kudzu Edging Deeper into Oklahoma" http://oklahomafarmreport.com/wire/news/2010/08/03144_KudzuFoothold08122010_063205.php

"The Legend of the Green Monster" by Bill Finch, (Smithsonian Magazine Sept 2015, pp 19ff.)

Song "Where the Emerald Kudzu Twines" ©1985 Suzette Haden Elgin & Randy Faran.