If you are small, but hardy, not given to large numbers and unable to run and hide, you might still be able to survive the innocents as they pass here, trample there, by making your home on the steep bluffs of an island–just out of reach, maybe.
The signs saying “Property of The Nature Conservancy”, while looming visibly on the fence a mile or so away, provide little protection when officialdom is rarely visible. The spines, protective against wildlife, are but a small hindrance to malicious fingers.And, besides, I just wanted one leaf; just one little spiny ear–not enough to be noticed, nor missed–except by the brittle prickly-pear cactus affected. That might be what was said. Mightn’t it?
If, on the other hand, the numbers are scarce, as in the case of this brittle prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia fragilis), Hardin’s worst nightmare–in its purest form–rules this commons. This plant will vanish. This will, quite likely, be its last spring. The innocents, though seldom far from a parking lot, will need justification for wandering this far. A conquest, even if only of a small plant, is needed with no concern for damage and a rush to extinction.
I have watched it for seven, maybe eight, years. The “Dead Tree”, a name we gave with no one’s official sanction, served as protective cover. The small cactus hiding on the away from the trail side; in false safety. That first summer, the small cactus was just a beautiful surprise found while running on one of the bluff trails of Whidbey Island. Its ten, maybe even a dozen pads (cladoles?) in varying shades of green and red; the celebratory year of yellow flowers was worth a second trip just so I could share what was seen on a solo run. They seemed safe on the downhill side of that long fallen windward-edge giant. As the dead tree has suffered decay and the visitors to the commons yielded to some perverse need to break a branch here; pull a loose piece of long dead trunk and toss it down bluff’s side over there, the small plant’s presence discovered, and its death begun.