The Kibitzer

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This Aggression Will Not Stand 

By Billy Fried

They are more aggressive than our cop cars. Their garish, neon color makes our black and whites (plus red, white and blue) look like muted Cézanne’s. They have crossed the border, multiplied, and are crowding out our locals. Walls won’t stop them. They use up our precious resources, choking everything in their path.

I’m talking of course about mustard. We’ve been colonized by Black Mustard. The gift from Spain that keeps on giving. Planted by Jesuits in order to trace their path from Mission to Mission. Now it threatens to overrun Orange County, an anachronism if there ever was one. We should change our name to Poupon Place.

I pity our poor local sunflowers. It’s been their show for years. Lighting up the coast like a beacon of renewal. Only now when you see a field in the distance, you roll up on it, and Jesus, Mother and Joseph it’s another mustard patch. Ever try to walk through one of those gauntlets? It’s like Hong Kong at rush hour. It’s so bad in Laguna Niguel, you can’t tell one subdivision from another.

The reason for their unstoppable propagation is because most native plants rely on a soil compound called mycorrhizal fungi to provide nutrients, water, and other chemicals, and this crucial fungi is lost when soil is degraded from development, runoff, fires and clearing. Turns out the resilient mustard does just fine without it, and why it’s among the first to grow in areas after a catastrophe. So if anything is to blame for this scourge, its rampant overdevelopment.

It’s almost heresy for me to condemn that most sacred of deli condiments, that goes so good with pastrami on rye. But on aesthetic grounds, mustard and sunflowers are worlds apart. First there’s the color. Mustard is fluorescent and almost artificially bright. But the sunflower, oh the sunflower. What a delight of warm glow, soft yellow optimism. With open, inviting pedals, graciously sharing the earth’s nutrients with other native species around it. Creating spontaneous color palettes that would make Monet swoon, with purple lupine, orange poppies, red lemonade berry, white yarrow, blue dicks and pink prickly pears. And if you’re lucky, you may find that most cosmic of plants, the rare Laguna Beach Live Forever.

Found only on our coast and usually on a steep pitch, this yellow flower springs from a long stalk attached to a multi-hued succulent of perfect pastels that has the sacred geometry of a lotus flower. That says something about us, because, according to Wikipedia, “In Buddhist symbolism, the lotus is symbolic of purity of the body, speech, and mind as while rooted in mud, its flowers blossom on long stalks as if floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire.”

I mention this because, in the midst of “flag gate,” we have once again pitted our residents against one another in violent rhetoric, goaded by members of our City Council and the national media, who distorted it into righteous click bait and dog whistle politics, a left against right narrative, patriots against haters, Never Trumpers against what Michele Bachmann called the most biblical president ever. It’s ugly and divisive and speaks to an alarming disorder in our collective psyches.

So here’s my remedy. Everyone needs to get out in our open space, breathe, and just be mindful of how lucky we are to be living here, in this moment. Witness the explosion of colors, smells and insects that the heavenly rains have wrought. Walking in nature is associated with higher levels of neurosteroid dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which contributes to cognitive performance. Natural environments promote positive emotions, which contribute to heightened physical and mental energy. So nature is good for your brain, not to mention your heart, lungs and legs. The Japanese call it “forest bathing.” They have codified the practice with a prescription for how much time to spend in nature to promote wellbeing. And if you are a student of the Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh, you know that walking in and of itself can be a deep, meditative practice.

We need some healing, folks. Tolerance is what Laguna is supposed to stand for. That’s why, instead of the nice but generic new police service statement, “Serving our community with pride and integrity,” how about “Floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire.” Just kidding, folks. Hold the letters.

In the meantime, you can either get out in nature and “biophiliate,” or stay online and fulminate over matters of little real consequence that will keep you firmly planted in the weeds.


Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX93.5 and can be reached at [email protected]


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  1. Brilliant read .. Thank you. The fact Laguna is small and only 3 ways in or out is a huge benefit but, it only helps if we are united not divided. As paragraph 7 so kindly points out. Having left Laguna 2yrs ago (1st time in 25yrs)to enjoy Nature and get my hands dirty in various organic farms along our great western coastline I have seen, felt and thoroughly enjoyed the benefits of some of what you wrote about here. Forest Bathing is spectacular I suggest for everyone and agree with Thich Nhat Hanh however, the mind needs to be clear when doing so so, leave the smart phone in the car. As for the Mustard – The season was a wet one and as evasive as the weed is its hardy and Goats, hand pulling, won’t help us at this point. Short of Spraying we won’t eradicate their bellicose behavior to the lupine, poppies, red lemonade berry, white yarrow, blue dicks and prickly pears. Unfortunately less rain will stop the swarming takeover of color unless you want to machete their heads off before seed to protect the next eco-sphere that the mu(ba)stard disrupts by competing effectively with the lovelys you mentioned for light, water and nutrients.

    Weed Science ( or the California Invasive Species Council (

  2. The sight of mustard flowers identifies wide areas of South OC degraded by centuries of cattle, sheep and goat grazing. The bright yellow flowers show us a golden opportunity to replant these habitats with native trees and plants capable of capturing stormwater while offering shaded ground to reduce the urban heat sink. Re-forestation projects engage the community to take action against global warming by restoring Nature’s sustainable ways to care for the environment, provide more oxygen and sequester carbon. Grab a shovel, dig a hole and plant some native trees and chaparral.


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