WHAT does a shy little shrub have to do with the future of the Sunshine Coast?
For quite a few years now, I have recorded the first sighting of the beautiful purple hovea as the harbinger of spring.
First to contact me this year was Amanda Hamson of Conondale, who spied it blooming its heart out, well ahead of schedule, in the understorey of the remnant forest on the verges of Steve Irwin Way.
According to the calendar, we are just over halfway through a season that has delivered very little of the champagne winter weather we and our southern visitors expect, but perhaps the hovea has some secret information about an early spring.
In his Ode to the West Wind, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley asked: "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" but on a murky chilly morning of the kind we've had so many lately, I cheer myself up with another question: With the hovea already in bloom, will I soon be lowering myself a little less gingerly on to the cold toilet seat?
My warped idea of luxury is not a house full of digital wizardry, but a warm and welcoming seat in that small reading room also known as the loo.
To return to that more serious question at the beginning of this column, what has the flowering of the purple hovea to do with the Sunshine Coast's future?
To me, it is symbolic of all that we love about our region's natural beauty and diversity, and that priceless mix could well be one of the casualties of challenging economic times.
I see two scenarios.
On the one hand, there could well be cut-backs at all three levels of government funding for environmental protection and restoration programs.
On the other, we will probably see strong pressure from big-time developers of so-called green-acre land for relaxed environmental requirements.
Such developments will, in the short term, benefit the Coast's struggling building industry and help with a trickle-down effect in retail and other fields, but in the long term, what will more and more urban sprawl do to the region's character?
It took years for public opinion to be awakened to the need to protect, nurture and retain what is left of the natural environment, but all three local governments, before being arbitrarily merged into the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, had to varying degrees come to acknowledge this need and consider it in their decision-making.
I fear now, though, for the consequences of either or both of the two scenarios outlined above. At risk is the future of that scenic and botanical diversity that first made our region so attractive, whether along the coastline, on the wildflower plains or in the remnant forests.
Which brings me back to the purple hovea.
Look out for it and enjoy it while you can. It flowers for only a few weeks, and who knows how much longer it can survive the inroads of that grab-bag of civil engineering called infrastructure?