August 25, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Keeping up on what’s current in today’s world

Pundits like to say we’re living in an era when change occurs faster and faster in every part of life.

Invention and technology speed up, sometimes improve, sometimes worsen, and often make obsolete what we do, and even aspects of who we are. All the time.

Needless to say, this is so human. What we find inspiring or healthful, important or necessary for a period of years, we tend to discard later because we “learn” that it’s wrong, toxic or unpleasant. History is a chronology of trial and error, with no end in sight, because actual learning is so hard for us imperfect creatures.

Take kudzu. Please. Kudzu is a perennial vine, which grows at a rapid rate and, in North America, is practically impossible to eradicate. It upsets ecosystems by crowding out other plants and trees, often eliminating animals’ habitat. Kudzu is not nice.

Most of us probably thought kudzu was safely confined to southern states like Georgia and Mississippi. Well, think again. According to the July-August issue of Outdoor Indiana, kudzu exists in “22 states, including North Dakota, Oregon and New Jersey.” Not only that, it’s in “34 Indiana counties in 96 sites, covering approximately 100 total acres.” Who knew?

Kudzu came to the U.S. in a Japanese display at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Until the 1940s, it was admired and used as an ornamental vine, as livestock fodder, and for the prevention of soil erosion. There was a Kudzu Club of America with 20,000 members, and “kudzu festivals, complete with kudzu queens.”

Then reality struck and “the vine that ate the South” was understood as the weed it really is. Today, plant pathology agencies of all kinds are engaged in war against kudzu. But kudzu is just one of the many enthusiasms we’ve taken up over the years, only to reject them later.

Or vice versa. When I was a kid, we lived next to a lake used solely for fishing. It was impossible to swim there—even on the hottest summer days—because it was full of leeches that grabbed on to you and sucked your blood. Anyone who has seen leeches up close, as in, God forbid, attached to his skin, knows them for the black, ugly, disgusting critters they are. Leeches were deemed bad.

Well, guess what. Time has marched on, and now we find leeches used for medical healing. Apparently, they eat up dead flesh on burn victims and other kinds of infected areas, cheaply and effectively. Except for the fact that we’d have to be terribly sick to permit this, it’s great news. Leeches are now deemed good.

Change has even occurred over the years in how we exercise to maintain good health and good looks. Remember sit-ups, the standard feature of gym class and post-partum tummy control? You lay on the floor with legs straight out, folded your arms across your chest and sat up as many times as possible.

But now, according to physical therapists, that exercise is too hard on the back. Instead, you lie flat with knees up, feet on the floor, elbows out with hands clasped behind your neck, and raise your shoulders up and down a few inches.

So, keep alert. Almost everything we “know” will prove false eventually. Except for the enduring love of God, of course.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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