Clifford Rieders

Bugs and Plants Now Embrace Wokeness

“Those damn gypsy moths are ruining my oak trees!” That was one of the nicer things that I had to say about the moths were attacking all of our beautiful red and white oak trees in Central Pennsylvania. So abundant were the moths that we could sit out on our patio and it sounded like something more than a light rain to hear the creatures sawing away at our blessed and beloved trees.

Then it happened! I heard that I could no longer call the dreaded moths gypsy moths because it was an insult to the Romanian Gypsy culture. Not knowing much about gypsies, or moths for that matter, I immediately began searching for the new correct word. It turned out to be “spongy moths.” What makes a moth spongy, as opposed to roving like the stereotype of a gypsy?

There is nothing wrong with respecting a group of people who do not like their culture affiliated with an annoying bug that destroys tress and denudes the woods of their loveliness. If it is now correct to refer to these detestable creatures as spongy moths, so be it! I am on board. Hopefully, there is no culture out there called “the spongies.”

This brings me to my belated obsession with plants. I was never one of those plant kind of people. When I was single, however, I decided to build a planter in my sunroom. It consisted of metal duct work formed into posts and tabletops, covered with glass beautifully made by Williamsport Mirror & Glass. The three “tables” stood in a box that I built, filled with white marble chips. In due course, the plants went wild and tried to take over the room. It was a battle which I lost until some little white bug attacked the plants and killed most of them.

When I got married, Kim immediately demanded that the whole mess be hauled out of the house and thrown away. So it was.

For a long time I did not bother with plants and they did not bother with me. Then something strange happened one day. I was at Lowe’s, one of my favorite places to be since I also have an obsession with hardware stores, and it was the end of the fall season. They were throwing out all of the plants and one of them which appeared virtually dead to me had a little sign on it saying, “Wandering Jew.” It was a plant with variegated leaves, medium in size which had stripes of silver, purple, and different shades of green. I remember this plant from the old days when it tried to take over the now defunct garden room.

I instantly felt sorry for my kinfolk. There was this plant virtually dead, no one wanted it, and it was clear that it was going to be tossed into a dumpster along with all of the other plants that were not going to be kept for the Thanksgiving or Christmas season. “How much is that plant?” I inquired. I was told that I could have it for $2.00. I took the $2.00 out of my pocket, and the very nice woman who waited on me told me to just take the plant since it was really worth nothing.

The Wandering Jew became one of my most successful plants, which has now taken over large portions of the front fourth floor of our office. The big glass windows are the perfect greenhouse for plants. I am not prejudiced and I do not have only Wandering Jews. There are a number of other plants, whose names I do not know, and one of them, a Ficus tree, left to me by a long ago retired employee, has blossomed into an enormous bush, taking up a large portion of my office.

I often refer to the Wandering Jews, as “our little Jewish friends.” However, I learned for the first time, only recently, that the tradescantia genus is now referred to as the “Wandering Dude,” sometimes the Wandering Dude Violet. I was both shocked and delighted by this change and now I am not sure how I feel about it.

“They,” those people who name plants and bugs, have taken away the productive vine’s very identity. What, after all, is a “dude?” How do all of the “dudes” of the world feel about being named after a plant that has aggressive shoots and runners, which will take over nearly any space before eventually overgrowing and dying out?

I decided, therefore, to make inquiry of some dudes I know, since I do not, unfortunately, know any gypsies. All of the dudes were happy to have this plant named after them. They were delighted to somehow be acquainted with a historic and productive people, like the Jews. No dude that I met was the slightest bit concerned about having their identity utilized for this unique plant. Then again, I never met any Jews who objected to the designation Wandering Jew.

A close friend of mine did some research for me on the background of the Wandering Jew. Actually, the Christian reference to wandering Jew concerned a Pagan Roman who mocked Jesus on the way to the crucifixion and was told that he would wander the earth. Early Christianity turned that non-Jewish Roman soldier into a wandering Jew. In the literature, the wandering Jew was not necessarily a bad person, but rather a strange, difficult to describe, essentially irrelevant human being who showed up in unusual and predictable places. Clearly, the designation did not have a positive connotation.

At this point in time, my property is filled with spongy moths and my office with Wandering Dudes. Fortunately the dudes and the moths have never met and hopefully they will not formulate an alliance against me.

This got me to thinking about all of the other names of creatures and items in the plant world that various experts, usually self-appointed, could rename. For example, maybe the Scots do not like having a dog named after them, the Scottish terrier.  Of course, if the terrier is from Scotland, the designation may have its fans among the warm hearted residents of Scotland. Think about the fish kingdom. We have the king fisher, which may be objectionable to kings, queens, and other royalty. The zebra fish hardly look like zebras, and any self-respecting zebra would not want to be identified with the zebra fish. I have this on good authority.

All this is not to mock the sensitivity of people. As my mother, may her soul rest in peace, was fond of saying, everyone has their own eggana tsuris, roughly translated as their own craziness.

There are much crazier misuses of language than the naming of moths and plants.  To some, Hamas means freedom fighters, while in reality it designates horrid, unrepentant, immoral terrorists. Even proper names can be misused, as we see every day in the world. So, take care to rid yourself of those spongy moths and be kind to wandering dudes; the world could use more warmhearted people.

About the Author
Cliff Rieders is a Board Certified Trial Advocate in Williamsport, is Past President of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and a past member of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority.
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