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LOOSESTRIFE / Ellen Akins FROM WORK I USUALLY go straight home to feed the cubs, who've come to depend on me for dinner, which isn't necessarily healthy but has its gratifying aspects—for aU of us, I think. But this had been one of those days of taking too many people on nature hikes around the island, pointing out the fragile wonders of the woods, then watching them motor happUy off in clouds of diesel exhaust—in short, wondering what good I was doing—so it was something more than a whim that prompted me to stop at Bark Bay on my way home and see about the purple loosestrife Td spotted growing there. Some people would teU you there's no such thing as a bad plant, but there is, just as there are bad birds, like cowbirds, who lay their eggs in other birds' nests so their offspring can muscle out the baby birds who belong. Even nature has its vUlains, and purple loosestrife is one of them. A rank opportunist, it takes over wetlands once it takes hold, as it generally does when someone plants it after ordering it under another name from a nursery that ought to know better. The people who plant it—as I suspected somebody had here, since the loosestrife seemed to be spreading around a mobUe home—usuaUy just don't know any better until someone teUs them, which was what I had in mind. I turned off the highway onto a gravel road that led down to the bay. As it descended, cutting through a stand of arbor vitae, the road got worse and worse, the gravel giving way to wet red clay that sucked at my tires Uke caramel until, when I finally reached the bottom, a grassy flat fronting the beach, my Uttle car was hardly moving. For aU the beauty of the place, the late sun glowing on the water and the sand and etching the tamaracks along in the spit in soft silhouette, it was hard to look at anything except the trailer rising from the middle of this golden setting Uke a pasty jewel. The mobUe home was in fact the only immobUe thing within view, sitting white and boxy against the shifting reeds and water and drifting clouds, and I knew to a certainty that it would be sitting there stiU when its inhabitants moved on, leaving the thing to slowly faU apart, its pieces of metal and foam and plastic persisting even then. The Missouri Review · 49 For once I was glad to be wearing my Park Service uniform, even though it makes me look Uke Smokey the Bear, which isn't funny, no matter what people say. For once, I thought, the uniform's authority might serve me. As I got out of the car, a Uttle girl came running along the beach. She was muddy right down to where the water splashed her, and seemed to be having a very good time until she saw me and stopped as suddenly and completely as a frightened squirrel. When I asked her if her mother or father were home, she came to Ufe with a look of alarm and went streaking away toward the trailer. A woman opened the door just in time to see the child fly past. She had a baby balanced on her hip and another Uttle one clinging to her leg, and she turned her head briefly in the direction the girl had gone, then returned to me with a mild, questioning smUe. She was quite pretty, though tired-looking, with hair so fair and frazzled that it looked Uke a dandeUon gone to seed. Standing at the foot of the steps leading up to the door, I offered my hand and introduced myself, telling her that I was from the Park Service, and she shifted the baby's weight to free one of her hands and shake. "Tm Donna," she said uncertainly. "This is Matthew, and Dawn, and that's Heather, hiding." FeeUng that Td frightened her for no reason I could imagine, I just stood there for a minute smiling harmlessly, and finaUy she said, "Is Jim...


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