Editorial: Poppy Stomping

By Ashley Loza

If you’ve been paying attention to the news or posted any seemingly innocent photos of wildflowers on social media lately, you’ve probably noticed that Californians have collectively lost their minds over this year’s superbloom. (We know we have. See our latest photos on page B5.)

It’s an understandable excitement. It’s not every year that we get to see our hills turn rainbow and our canyon carpeted in poppies. It’s easy to feel childlike delight when you come upon a field of wildflowers.

Naturally, in a world where we like to document and share our experiences online, that delight is recorded in photos. What follows is the requisite outrage that accompanies nearly anything that finds its way on to the internet.

I think that the Great Flower Rage of 2019 began when throngs of people flooded Lake Elsinore to explore and take photos of their poppy fields. Many of those visitors went off-trail, flattened and stomped flowers in their excitement, and left the fields destroyed. Then, in a jaw-dropping display of oblivious entitlement, someone landed a private helicopter smack in the middle of the

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve outside of Lancaster, probably obliterating hundreds of poppies in the process.

Baffled and comically snide park officials took to Facebook to explain, slowly, that this is not a thing people should do.

“We never thought it would be explicitly necessary to state that it is illegal to land a helicopter in the middle of the fields and begin hiking off trail in the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve,” they said. “We were wrong.”

I was also baffled. Californians are particular about our environmental wonders. I thought it was common knowledge that damaging the state flower was heinous, but maybe not everyone got the memo.

Unfortunately, as will happen in the age of social media, many people took their anger about 50 steps too far.

If you visit Instagram and tap on #superbloom2019, you’ll be greeted with more than 15,000 photos of flowers, mostly poppies. Click on any handful of them, and you’ll find strangers leaving nasty comments on every photo where it appears someone went off-trail (whether they actually did or not.)

Some posters edited their captions to apologize and explain that they were unaware that it was harmful and would advise others not to make their mistake. Some explained that (surprise!) photography is magic, and it’s not hard to take a photo from the opposite side of a trail and look like you’re sitting in a sea of flowers.

Some turned off commenting completely to cut off the flow of negativity.

I haven’t seen Californians this incensed since, well, maybe ever. You can post any other photo of California, and I’d bet actual money that you’re not going to get many comments from strangers concerned about the skyrocketing cost of living that’s partially driving an increase in homelessness.

But flowers are less complicated to defend. Cost of living and homelessness are topics with sticky social solutions and political attitudes attached to them.

Best to get behind something that seems relatively easy to digest, and everyone loves flowers, right?

At the peak of the online outrage, one of our local photos received a nasty comment. We went out to take photos for next year’s Kern River Valley Visitor’s Guide and stopped to take our own photos sitting on a rock in a field of tiny white flowers. We skipped along green spots and rocks, careful to leave little trace that we were there.

But it didn’t take long for someone to notice anyway.

“Heads up your photo is being used as an example of the destruction of the flowers habitat you are about to be bombarded with hate,” the commenter said in a breathless string of words to one of our young staff members.

I searched him until I found out who he was.

He didn’t appear to be from the area, and, spoiler alert, he didn’t appear to be a flower expert. He wasn’t one of our own KRV biologists or botanists come to educate about the benefits of wildflowers.

In fact, with the amount of time he appeared to spend online, I’m hesitant to guess when he last saw an actual flower.

Strangely, the idea of a grown man threatening a young woman with large-scale social crucifixion was far less egregious to him than the damage we might have done to the “flowers habitat.”

Did he also take the time to be enraged about Keepers of the Kern’s photos indicating that actual human waste is left by our river? Was he as angry about the literal tons of garbage that the Kern River Conservancy picks up on the lower Kern? Was he equally upset that human-caused fires destroy thousands of acres of our mountain habitat every year?

As an expert on flower destruction, I’m sure he could give us his thoughts on the preserves being created, in part, for our own alkali mariposa lily.

To simplify things, maybe he’d like, very quickly, to take a gamble and see if he can point to Kernville on a map.

It was the latest in an endless string of internet commentary in which people expend the smallest possible amount of energy to act concerned in return for public accolades.

I hope that our angry friend feels at one with nature now that he’s educated us on the environmental issues that confront our own home.

But for what it’s worth, I do believe that with 40 million of us in this state, we should tread lightly and be conscious of what surrounds us. In fact, I actually did advise that residents think twice about traipsing into the flowers; even with a hop, skip and a jump, we leave more tracks than we intend to. The less we touch them, the more we’ll be able to enjoy them in future years.

I just don’t feel that any of us owe that explanation to Joe Blow on Instagram who’s using the trend of the moment for a boost in followers.

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