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Vaux-le-Vicomte in the DMZ
George Louis Le Rouge

(“Plan de Marly,” from George Louis Le Rouge's Detail des nouveaux jardins a la mode, 1777.)


Exactly how many landmines buried in the Korean peninsula is a state secret. Some estimates put the figure at over 2 million in the 2.5-mile wide DMZ and about 1 million more in the 6-mile wide Military Control Zone. Though thousands are being removed to make way for rail and road links and many more have become non-functional through environmental wear, they can easily be replaced with the millions stored in stockpiles throughout the countryside.


Also a state secret are their locations. Of course, one only has to draw one line in the north and one in the south to generally know where not to go traipsing about. For everyone, this is enough. For military war strategists, however, maps would definitely be of some help. But then again, some of the land mines perhaps may have become a secret even to those who keep the official records, as one typhoon years ago showed what could happen.

From BBC News (7 August 1999):

As Koreans begin to clear up after the floods [caused by Typhoon Olga], they are being warned of the danger posed by landmines and other explosives dislodged by floodwaters from the heavily-fortified border zone between North and South Korea.

The South and its ally, the US, are thought to have placed about one million landmines and anti-tank explosives along the border.

Marines say they are looking for 150 mines which may have been dislodged. Reports say just four have been found so far.

Artillery shells and more than 7,000 other pieces of ammunition have been swept away defence ministry officials say.

Not clarified in the article is the fact that those landmines were washed out of the DMZ or storage sites into areas frequented by civilians. And though 150 sounds like small change, just one is needed to ruin an entire family.

Also not mentioned is that this sort of thing apparently happens periodically, not only through flooding but also from erosion, landslide, melting snow, and other natural elements.

For another case of unexploded ordnances shifting from their original locations, check out this briefing paper prepared by Human Rights Watch on the landmines in Mozambique affected by catastrophic flooding in 2000.


Sarah Pickering
(Sarah Pickering, Landmine, 2005.)

Sarah Pickering
(Sarah Pickering, Fuel Air Explosion, 2005.)

Sarah Pickering
(Sarah Pickering, Artillery, 2006.)


Last year, TIME Europe reported on a remarkable research being done by Jarne Ellehold and Carsten Meier into possibly using a common type of weed to detect landmines.

“On scrubby flatland outside Copenhagen Airport,” we read, “on old army shooting ranges that have been seeded with land mines,” their biotech start-up company, Aresa, is growing large patches of thale-cress that have been genetically modified “so that its leaves turn red when the plant comes in contact with nitrogen dioxide — a compound that naturally leaches into the soil from unexploded land mines made from plastic and held together by leaky rubber seals.”

While more experiments are still needed, initial results seem to show that the weeds are indeed turning red where they should be.


Not to be outdone by the plant kingdom, some Croatian bees are learning to become mine detectors.

According to BBC News, Professor Nikola Kezic of Zagreb University and his colleagues are training honey bees to sniff out explosives that might have been missed by de-mining teams.

Training the bees to find mines takes place in a large net tent pitched on a lawn at the university's Faculty of Agriculture.

A hive of bees sits at one end, with several feeding points for the bees set up around the tent.

But only a few of the feeding points contain food, and the soil immediately around them has been impregnated with explosive chemicals.

The idea is that the bees' keen sense of smell soon associates the smell of explosives with food.

So like libidinous sows to truffles, they follow the scent of TNT while a special heat-sensitive camera tracks their every move. And if they've been trained properly, they should then “settle on areas of ground that smell of explosives,” their collective buzzing turned into an alarm bell.

But unlike those prized hogs, the weight of the insects won't trigger the discovered landmines, blowing them up into smithereens or into tonight's dinner.


Locating buried bombs is one thing; rendering them harmless is another, something which the thale-cress and Croatian bees are incapable of doing.

Fortunately, as but one example of a phytoremediating organism, there is the white-rot fungus Phlebia radiate, specifically mentioned by New Scientist in a short article about Robert Riggs' idea for what Subtopia brilliantly referred to as fungoidal bomb-hacking.

The invention, according to the patent application, entails mixing dormant fungal spores encased in biodegradable pellets into the explosive material. If the bomb explodes, so goes the fungal package as well. But if it remains undetonated, moisture will eventually find its way inside, allowing the spores to grow and proliferate. As the fungi become metabolically active, they begin to eat their way out of the capsules. And once they make contact with the explosive material, they too will begin metabolizing and degrading it.

Just so they won't feel left out, here are the other fungi mentioned by Riggs that are quite suitable for his invention: Ascomycete mycelia; Bjerkandera sordidicola sp BOS55; Pycnoporus cinnabarinus; Stachybotrys; Inonotius dryophilus; Perenniporia medulla-panis; Ganoderma oregonense; Trametes versicolor; Phellinus badius; Agaricus bisporus; Pieurotus ostreatus; Lentinula edodes; and Phanerochaete Chrysosporium.

Who wants to bet that somebody is now planning, if not already in mid-experiment, to genetically modify one of those? Because why involved yourself into making yet more bombs just to make them safer when you could forgo the manufacturing process altogether?

So: after surveying the weather and cosulting your manual on the wind dispersal pattern, you spray the special spores onto a minefield using a hydroseeder, the same one that groundskeepers to seed green grass on golf courses, and which Ares also used to cover their experimental field with thale-cress. Once on the ground, and activated by the meerest contact with soil, they begin sniffing out the tell-tale chemical signs of explosives, burrowing deep into the ground, their rhizomes following the scent of nitrogen diozide until they touch metal or plastic. The feast begins thereafter.


George Louis Le Rouge

(“Bosquets de la principale parlie des jardin,” from George Louis Le Rouge's Detail des nouveaux jardins a la mode, 1777.)


Moving away from landmines for the moment, it is worth mentioning, at this point, this recent article from National Geographic News regarding three species of fungi that apparently “grew larger and faster when exposed to high levels of radiation, even when deprived of nutrients.”

These fungi, we learn, contain “black pigment melanin -- a substance also present in human skin,” and “observations suggest that the pigment may play a role in the fungi similar to that of chlorophyll in plants, which traps energy from sunlight and converts it to 'food energy' needed to sustain life.”

Potentially, then, with edible mushrooms containing melanin or with plants genetically grafted with genes from these self-feeding fungi, you can grow your own food without the sun or gas-guzzling artificial light sources. In tunnel cities charged with ambient radioactivity. In Martian-bound colonial spaceships constantly bathed with cosmic rays. Or on the surface of Mars itself, in barrel vaulted greenhouses half-buried in solar irradiated soil.

To quickly revert back to the earlier subject of biodetection, we'll note that the article goes on to quote John Dighton, a fungi specialist who has done research at Chernobyl. He says, “Fungi that have been previously exposed to ionizing radiation have a propensity to direct their growth towards sources [of the radiation].”

Like Croatian bees to TNT, no?


Shewanella oneidensis

(Above is the Shewanella oneidensis eating away some bits of the iron oxide mineral, hematite. An ideal candidate for bioremediation, they can neutralize uranium, nitrates, and other substances harmful to humans.)


Having now amassed a menagerie of sorts, there is only one thing left to do: you cultivate a garden out in the DMZ.

You take Aresa's entire supply of altered thale-cress, Kezic's colonies of trained bees, Rigg's bomb-eating mushrooms, and every other pytho-Frankensteins we haven't yet heard about or still inside petri dishes unspliced and awaiting reconstruction. And don't forget to take those field-tested Dutch hydroseeders, too. Or better yet, you build a bigger, jet-powered hydroseeder that can coat a hundred football fields in 5 seconds or less with your special slurry of bioremediators and mulch.

Once the landscape has been coated, you wait for a week or two, maybe interviewing soldiers for the visitor's guide and tourist brochures in the meantime or taking in the sights. Soon patches here and there become hosts to thriving communities, lush with prismatic vegetation and bustling with activity, and whose biodiversity may only be matched by the Amazon. And because the design and technology actually works, the land mines underneath these small parcels of land are getting dissolved, folding back into the earth.

The thrill-seekers descend en mass, navigating around these strange arboretums which they cannot enter. Off limits, unless they are really that adventurous. Consequently, the barren interstitial zones get littered with well-worn foot paths, which consolidate, after much further use, into a highly ordered Serpentine circulation system. Hints of Capability Brown perhaps. And maybe of John Loudon, via the furnishings of “exotic” plants. Or Gertrude Jekyll's impressionistic “hardy flower borders”?

And what's a picturesque garden without framed, scenic views for histrionics and philosophical musings. They will be created collaboratively. Not accidentally, as everything here has been designed intentionally, unlike the quasi-wilderness of the involuntary park.

And fountains? Sarah Pickering has been hired.

From Google Earth, the arboretums resolve into curlicued, self-interlacing parterres. Edenic parterres, it must be qualified. For much like the first, these new Edens have been made inaccessible by our own follies. We can only gaze at them in exile, and only through acts of redemption could we possibly be allowed to enter.


George Louis Le Rouge

(“Projet pour le Jardin Anglo-chinois du Petit Trianon,” from George Louis Le Rouge's Detail des nouveaux jardins a la mode, 1777.)


Has your village been flooded with landmines or is it now downwind from a nuclear meltdown?

Don't panic. Let's garden!


George Louis Le Rouge

(“Jdée d'un Jardin Chinois,” from George Louis Le Rouge's Detail des nouveaux jardins a la mode, 1777.)


Vaux-le-Vicomte @ Wikipedia

Not A Cornfield
Wheatfield by Agnes Denes
Revival Field
Pteris vitata
  • Barrett
  • July 26, 2007 at 2:12:00 PM CDT
  • no update in over two weeks? i'm in withdrawal.

  • Anonymous
  • August 31, 2007 at 8:43:00 AM CDT
  • It has little to do. Here an image of a canon exploding (its the landmines that remind me of it)

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