Why write a poem about longleaf pine, armadillos, white-tailed deer, and driving on the
The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus
Appalachian Highway, going back to my hometown for barely a day?
novemcinctus), distant relative of anteaters and
The changes I expect to find when I go home again are cosmetic: the high
sloths of South America, probably came to
school turned into an office park, more wrinkles on the faces of the people I see,
Alabama from Florida.
different landscaping around the mall, housing developments with bigger houses made of
Armadillos have very little hair, prefer dense
brick, new malls with fancier stores
vegetation, feed mainly on insects, but now
I do not expect the successful introduction of a new species or the runaway success of
have been observed to eat quail and turkey
cultivating an existing species and its attendant destruction
eggs. Armadillos appear to be adapting.
I have read about the decimation of longleaf pine forests and their replacement with
The white-tailed deer population of Alabama
loblolly pine plantations and I think about this as I drive where I am sure these
is second largest among U.S. states. There are
plantations exist and I am frustrated that I can’t see them from the highway and also
now 1.5 million deer. In 1940, there were only
a little relieved-- maybe they are not really that widespread after all, and I am irritated
16,000 deer. The state plants rye grass & clover
that I do not have time to pull off the highway and poke around, investigate;
by the side of the highway. In one development,
and I mourn all the longleaf pine trees I passed under as a child without paying
deer ate $60,000 worth of ornamental plantings
attention, the woods I roamed that are now cleared, the understory I failed to notice
in one night.
that has now been consumed by white-tailed deer
and I simply wonder about the armadillos: will they tilt their new habitat any more out of
The longleaf pine ecosystem once covered
balance or snuffle along peacefully, looking for grubs? Will they continue to eat quail and
93 million acres from Virginia to central Florida
turkey eggs they happen to find? Is that adaptation trending or fleeting?
and as far west as Texas.
and I think that yes, intellectually, I know that change is a constant, that the same
Longleaf pine bark is orange-brown. Needles,
kinds of transformations happen where I presently live and did not grow up, that they
in bunches of three, can be 18 inches long.
appear less jarring to me because I did not know the same land before the changes, that
Longleaf pine has been used for turpentine,
I do not remember when here/there.
pitch, and building material. Three million acres
I might imagine a pack of leprous armadillos endangering the lives of shoppers at the
of longleaf pine habitat remain.
new high-end mall dropped in a valley I used to pass “in the country.”
I cannot tell where the country begins anymore around my hometown because the suburbs have swelled to engulf the country and its narrow roads and occasional barns
and, as I drive on a brand new highway designed to bring economic opportunity to my home state, I think about the ornamental plant species consumed on new lawns by hungry deer as loblolly pine trees are harvested from tidy rows of an endless monoculture that is not eaten by hungry deer
and I think about the forces of adaptation, the speed of adaptation, the birds that need the longleaf pine, my own stubborn nature, and the occasional narrow road, adorned along each shoulder in kudzu, that continues to unfold along my mental map, past
Corridor V, home of the sign of the deer with the red nose
and the wider roads carrying trucks of finished lumber, tractor trailers of stripped pine trunks