Every summer I bring students into our woods, and wade in our rivers, so they can learn biocultural history and experience deep biotic immersion. Over the years, we have become very aware of the character and health of our biome; by visiting the same places, we register how they have changed—and they always change. One of the most striking changes we have encountered is the blanketing over of our favorite river spots by Japanese Knotweed, a bamboo-like plant.
Two years ago, we began to reclaim some the beaches we love on a nationally-registered Wild and Scenic river (the East Branch of the Westfield river) because they’d disappeared under impenetrable groves of the stuff. We had nowhere even to put down our packs and eat lunch. Until we got squeezed out by this pernicious plant, we thought there was some entity that would come and take of the problem; but after a few years, we realized there was nothing stopping knotweed from choking the entire river corridor. Action was required.
Cutting knotweed is always good thing to do. At the river spot you love, chop it down and let it dry out on shore. It will come back out of the root, so hit it again until it’s finally surrendered. Be sure not to spread the root, because that’s its primary means of colonization.
Cutting knotweed is a philosophical exercise, because doing it makes you a cultivator of the wild. Wherever the knotweed takes over, creatures starve. It provides no food to native species, except to pollinators when it briefly flowers. By eradicating it, we increase biodiversity, and the amount of food there is to feed our wild creatures.
Everything is food, says the Great Forest Upanishad. By cultivating the wild to increase its ability to produce food, we also increase its beauty and vitality. More than that though, we find a “new” part of ourselves that was nascent yet dormant—the part that feels its connection to the earth is primary, instead of secondary: the part that is not a consumer of manufactured products and processes: the part that is born from the humus, the soil—the human being.
Let us end this meditation by imagining what it is like for native river or wetlands creature, who is hungry, to wander through habitat consisting solely of Japanese Knotweed—
Eat as much as you want
You wake up hungry, go to the frig, open the door and see top to bottom racks lined with mustard, same size, content, packaging, label.
No, not for breakfast.
Lunchtime hits; you open the door and there’s the mustard again. Hundreds of jars exactly the same.
There’s nothing else to eat. You try some, just to see, a bowl of mustard—hot and nice but third spoon trips a trigger, moments pass, as you consider new ways to eat mustard.
Dinner and you haven’t eaten today. The frig is full, & nothing else can be put in there.
How long can do you this determines how long you can do this. Unless you can find a new refrigerator, this is all you can do for the rest of your life.
A refrigerator filled with mustard—who could ever have imagined, this is your destiny?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kurt Heidinger, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Biocitizen, non-profit school of field environmental philosophy, based in the Western MA Hilltown of Westhampton, MA where he lives with his family. Biocitizen gives participants an opportunity to “think outside” and cultivate a joyous and empowering biocultural awareness of where we live and who we are. Check out Kurt’s monthly column, The Ripple, here on Hilltown Families on the 4th Monday of every month to hear his stories about rivers in our region. Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!
[Photo credit: (cc) Lorianne DiSabato]