The Flowering of Monte, Social Media and the Hordes

Where has the last month gone??? This is a brief, I promise, update to those of you who’ve been following the flowering of Monte, my Agave montana, this spring. Ever since Monte went viral on social media, life has been a little crazy here. On April 20th the bracts at the top of the inflorescence separated enough that I could see down inside to the tightly clustered buds below looking a lot like a bunch of chicks with their beaks upheld…then the changes became visible, changing noticeably on a daily basis…and everyone began to see it. Our regular walkers in the neighborhood, bicyclists, commuters and the many who’s regular workdays brought them by…and I swear everyone of them must have been posting!

It did not take long at all before Monte became a destination. Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Next Door, Monte’s evolving visage was appearing everywhere and the number of visitors, which was at one time early on easy to handle, quickly began to approach sideshow numbers and atmosphere. Many seemed to have completely forgotten about the pandemic and sheltering in place. What was once a varying stream flow became a flood. I would go outside to take pictures, make notes and measure, ever earlier, as early as 5:30am, and people would be here, for Monte. At first I would ‘hold class’, answer their questions and try to educate them about the processes of plant growth, the thumbnail version, and people seemed genuinely curious. I tried to take advantage of what I saw as a ‘teaching moment’…but, the numbers quickly increased and many seemed more interested in snapping their IG pics and getting in on this event. But this event wasn’t like the one day happening of last year’s eclipse or the brief period of the blooming Corpse Flower up on the WSU campus…but people came like this would be their only chance.

We didn’t do a count…we simply got overwhelmed. I put up information sheets on Monte and the several other plants visitors kept asking about as well as others requesting that they be respectful of our plantings and of the need for social distancing in these very real days of COVID-19. Many weren’t wearing masks. Some completely ignored the 6′ rule.

We both began to tire. I requested on FB that people observe the pandemic precautions. I had less and less energy for the continuing barrage of the same questions, the comments about making it into tequila, those asking only about when the seeds would be ready as if they were thinking of when to come back, beat me to harvest and make a lot of money selling them…no one makes lots of money selling seeds of one ornamental plant. There were altercations, fortunately only a few minor ones between visitors and a notable one with a visitor and my neighbor. We got yelled at by another neighbor. I didn’t recognize him, he wore a mask, blaming us, saying it was our responsibility to control these people and make them wear masks and observe the 6′ minimum rule. We asked him how much control did he have over people he did not know nor had even invited to his property? He was just angry and stressed like many of us because of the pandemic, the economy and the political BS going on in this country.

The TV news showed up over a two day period, the first reporter, came when there were probably 40+ people here. The numbers had been increasing daily. I spoke to him. I would not do an interview and did not give him my name as we did not want even more publicity…couldn’t he see that it was already a problem, especially given the pandemic! They ran the story anyway and posted it on their website, with our address.

The next day we had at least double the crowd and many/most of those people knew little of gardening, it was an event, something to do for a city of shut ins and the bored. I called the station manager to complain. When I described the effect their story had, he said he was sorry. I said that wasn’t enough and he promised to remove the address from their webpage. It wasn’t enough. He told me they would take it down. I said okay. My wife retreated into the back garden. Mid-day, a woman and here grandson, came up our stairs to the gate and wanted to bring him in to show him our plants!!!! That was it! Melt down!

While that was going on another local TV news crew was there and, when confronted by my wife after observing the above incident, told here that they would not run or post anything. The problem, they could see, was obvious and they recognized their story could only make it worse. Then another station showed up and quickly retreated.

We live on a bus route, where the bus must turn and bus after bus would have to stop because visitors were standing in the bike lane or out in the middle of the street not paying attention…sometimes the buses would have to honk to clear the way.

The word began to get out through social media that there was a problem. More and more visitors began expressing their gratitude to us for providing this opportunity and sharing…Monte grows in the parking strip which is within the road right of way and so the property is owned by the City, not something we could block off. Many would apologize for the behavior of others. There were still the oblivious, for whom this a seemed little more than a social opportunity.

The numbers did not abate. A City inspector showed up as they had been getting numerous traffic complaints of pedestrians in the roadway and cars stopping to take pictures impeding traffic flow. I spoke with him, asking what we could do. He didn’t have any suggestions, saying he was only asked to observe and report back.

The next morning a crew showed up with a plan and set out traffic candles, tapped off an area and set some signs, including removing all of the parking along the street to give visitors a corridor they could safely move through…away from car traffic in addition to the limited sidewalk. We all watched, saw that their plan wasn’t working, and attempted to adjust it. They’d never had to deal with a problem quite like it and their signage reflected it.

The next morning another crew should up with different signs. We talked. It was still inadequate. My wife and I have long grown tired of explaining to people that we did not put the candles and tape up. We were not trying to keep people away from our plants. The City put this up to keep them out of the roadway…to keep them safe!

Then we found out that our ‘friend’ Blair, the station manager at KATU, did not take the story down and passed it on to their affiliates. People began showing up who were urged to do so by family and friends in other parts of the country because they saw it on their local news stations there….I had told Blair that what they were doing was not reporting on ‘news’ they were merely capitalizing on a social phenomenon and contributing to a potentially bad situation…remember the rule limiting gatherings to groups smaller than ten? Apparently for them this didn’t matter.

So, this is still going on, fortunately with breaks caused by cool damp days. We are getting tired of living in a ‘fishbowl’ and Monte continues along its flowering path. It has been 28 days since the crown of the panicle began its serious transformation and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve had more than 10,000 visitors…I kid you not, in front of our house in a residential neighborhood. In fact its probably many more than that as we’ve had many days where over a 12 hour period we’ve had between 20 and 50 people here at anyone time! 9:00am – 9:00pm.

While it isn’t a count of Monte visitors it is interesting to note that on this blog site I have had just over 14,000 ‘views’ over the last four weeks. Typically I would get between 20 and 100 per day with more on days of my irregular posts, so up at least 5-fold. While it is from May 4, back when life was a little calmer, I shot this time lapse over about a 6 hour period and it gives you a sense of the activity (see it at #monteagaveexperience). At busy times there would be better than 30 people across the street waiting for a break to come across for their pictures.

Between Monte and COVID-19 not much else has been happening.

2 thoughts on “The Flowering of Monte, Social Media and the Hordes

  1. Paulette Nelson

    That’s crazy! I’m happy that your agave bloomed but wow! That’s a lot of people looking at your house and landscaping.

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  2. sharon botchway

    hello, wow, that was an interesting post. i am sorry this all turned out to be such a drag for you. I hope that is counteracted some by the delight you are providing us all. i live 2 blocks away and was aware of all of this. we watched to spike shoot up over the past year with fascination and delight, it’s been such a joy to follow. I went for a walk by again today and just wanted to let you know we appreciate you. your plantings have fascinated me for the past several years. thank you.

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