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THE CHOPPING BLOCK: Invasive species


Castor oil kills iguanas.

Extracted from the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant, the liquid has many benefits to humans like curing eye ailments and inducing labor during pregnancy. But the oil that ancient Egyptians burned as fuel for lamps, is fatal to reptiles, as it contains a toxic enzyme called ricin, which is deactivated through extreme heat during the production process, making it less lethal for human consumption.

I learned about the deadly usage of castor oil at the farmers market recently, after I joined a group of what seemed to be curious shoppers in front of a popular stand. While waiting for the day’s open-air activities to begin, before me were two couples — one pledged their allegiance to Florida, while the other hailed from Texas.

The middle-aged Florida woman chatted casually about how iguanas are a nuisance in her gated community.

“They’re everywhere down there,” she explained, adding the lizards are prone to freezing and falling out of trees during certain times of the year in the Sunshine State. “They’ll kill you, if you aren’t careful.”

A full-grown iguana can weigh up to eight pounds. I imagined a storm of comatose iguanas raining down on retirees like scale-covered bowling balls, smacking the thin-skulled ignoramuses in the back of the head dead.

That’s when the Florida woman’s husband chimed in.

“Castor oil,” he said of his homemade remedy. “I spread it on the lawn and find ’em dead a few days later.”

The bluntness and pride of his assertion made his wife recoil, but everyone who heard it already knew she was far from innocent in this strange and terrible case.

“Or you can keep them in your freezer,” she said.

This piqued the Texas couple’s interest.

“Really?” the woman said in a typical Texas twang that sounded and settled into the ears like “rally?”

“Oh, yeah,” the lizard woman said. “Then you take them outside and they warm up and run off.”

She didn’t divulge any more details, but the statement raised questions in my mind. How long does she keep the iguanas in Ice Age purgatory? Does this relatively basic-looking couple have a separate refrigerator full of reptiles? Or do they store them alongside their Atkins TV dinners and pints of non-dairy ice cream? Wonder what iguana tastes like?

Changing the subject before anyone could pin her for some type of carnivorous dinosaur, the woman explained how her next-door neighbor has a gator problem, an unwelcomed byproduct of the hamlet’s manmade pond.

“They’re in their driveway all the time.”

I know for a fact people eat gator down there. Everyone says it tastes like chicken when prepared properly. It was then that I realized I was amongst some seriously weird company.

The Texas couple, comforted by the fact that there are others out there, shared their flavor.

“We have armadillos,” the woman said.

Her husband became visibly irritated and shifted his stance.

“They’re the worst,” he said. “They dig up our garden beds all the time. Now, do you water down the castor oil?”

The lizard king replied with a definitive “no,” implying that such a concoction would only prolong the finality of death, and where’s the fun in that.

“OK, I’m doing that,” the armadillo hunter said.

The macabre conversation shifted back to general pleasantries.

“Where are you from?” the Florida woman asked.

“Wichita Falls,” the other woman said. “He calls it Dante’s Inferno, because it’s hotter than hell in the summer and cold as sin in the winter.”

The foursome cackled at the tired literary quip, their long mouths hinged open oddly like pterodactyls.

“It’s so beautiful here,” she added, but there wasn’t any type of excitement or wonderment in her gray irises, not even a glint or twitch; they were deader than a doll’s eyes.

Everyone agreed and took a moment to gawk at the surrounding mountains wearing a white coat of fresh snow and neon-colored trees actively shedding their dead appendages with the same gaze. Then the bell rung announcing the official start of the day’s farmers market. The newfound invasive species proceeded to finger and fondle the fresh fruit and vegetables before them. No iguanas, gators or armadillos were to be found that day. No dead flesh at all, to be certain.

Flustered, I quickly grabbed my organic goods, paid and left the scene, my frantic pace on the sidewalk back to my hobbit hole slowed by a rout of giant snails. Without a trail of slime to warn me, I nearly ran into the backs of the bipedal creatures in front of me. Completely unaware of anyone or anything around them, they squirmed forward in a shoulder-to-shoulder line like lazy Civil War soldiers. Don’t throw salt on them until you see the whites of their eyes.

Top scientists believe that the sixth mass extinction event has begun. Another recent study found that a person is more likely to be bitten by another human on a New York City subway than suffer a shark attack.

As I found my front door I fell into a daydream about a giant Sherwin-Williams paint bucket covering the Earth in castor oil. Then I remembered what Uncle Chuck said.

“Boring damned people. All over the earth. Propagating more boring damned people. What a horror show. The earth swarmed with them.”

The Chopping Block is Rev. Justin Criado's monthly column for the Telluride Daily Planet newspaper. It also appears in the monthly Four Corners Free Press print edition. This piece was originally published on Thursday, Oct. 13.

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