Winning the war one whack at a time


Good vs. evil. Light vs. Dark. Day vs. Night.

Man vs. honeysuckle.

I realize the last item does not rank as high on the cosmic existential balance sheet as the first three. Then again, the Big Thinkers who come up with such lists don’t live at my house.

This is a classic story of unintended consequences. Many years, back when I and the universe were young, honeysuckle bushes were seen as a super landscaping option. The particular honeysuckle bushes that you now see everywhere were imported from Europe and Asia in the late 19th century. It didn’t take them long to escape from horticultural gardens and start their march across the continent.

There were some things that made them seem like a desirable addition to your yard. They had these wonderful, fragrant flowers in the spring. They provided privacy from your nosy neighbors. They grew like weeds. Perfect!

Well, not quite. It seems like honeysuckle bushes had some drawbacks that weren’t immediately obvious. They quickly started pushing out native plants and overrunning the landscape. Their fruit was not nearly as nutritious for birds as the native plants they supplanted, causing problems for migrating birds. They grew like weeds.

If you promise not to tell my conservationist friends, I’ll tell you about my honeysuckle bushes.

My back yard is encircled with about 10 feet of honeysuckle bushes. All the information on honeysuckles says they grow to be from 6 to 20 feet tall. The ones in my yard grow about 6 feet a year. For many years, I have been fighting a holding action, keeping them from growing farther out into the yard but not making any significant inroads into eliminating them.

But, thanks to spending more time at home due to Covid-19, this year I have declared war. It’s kind of a guerrilla war, actually, because I’m only attacking small sections at a time, but you have to start somewhere. I am saving the really giant bushes, the ones that are as big as houses and that are twisted around telephone wires, for later — much later.

In some ways, it’s like playing a giant game of whack-a-mole (I get moles in my yard, too, but that’s another story). I wipe out the little bushes but new ones pop up somewhere else. Still, this year I’ve actually made a little progress which gives me hope for the future.

Last weekend there was good weather so on Saturday I went out with my trusty hand saw, parrot beaks and shovel and went to work. I have an aversion to chainsaws and loud noises, so I prefer more primitive methods. I fancy myself as a kind of modern-day Ohio settler, tackling the wilderness with my simple tools and simple mind. I have an advantage in that I don’t have to worry about Native Americans trying to stop me, although I do get some odd looks from my neighbors.

Whack, pull, dig. Whack, pull, dig. I can’t do as much of this as I did 10 or 20 years ago. I have to take a lot more breaks. Plus, it’s counterproductive to look at the entire scene because it really does seem overwhelming. One bush at a time!

How do those settlers who came into Ohio wipe out an entire primeval forest so quickly? It takes me one day to get rid of a couple bushes. They pretty much changed the entire ecosystem in a generation or so. I am doubtful I ever will tame my 1-acre yard.

But hope springs eternal. I’ll keep whacking away and see where it leads. Somewhere, in the distant future, I might actually get to a point where it’s time to replace what I have taken out. I will choose carefully, hopefully deciding on something that, 60 years from now, will be as much trouble for the next landowner as honeysuckle is for me.

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