There was a well-intended invasive weed removal group of volunteers active in San Diego in the late 1990’s, who claimed to have city and/or country permission to remove plants that they consider to be “weeds” from non-private property in residential neighborhoods. The definition of a weed has always been a plant that grows where people do not want it, that is a plant with the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This year’s weed might be next year’s treasure, but it was still at risk today. Not understanding the full dynamics of the event, I joined up with a work party for an afternoon of “weed” eradication. It was not this group, but something similar: http://ucsdcki.org/events/removal-of-invasive-species-workparty.
I showed up to the work party with my hand spade, a small cutting tool, and wearing closed-toed shoes as directed, so as not to track out invasive seeds in my toes and thereby unwittingly becoming part of any wayward plant’s “weed invasion”. I was given a free bottle of water and a promotional T-shirt.
The area we would be weeding was in a residential neighborhood just off a street that ran along the Pacific Ocean, and I noticed that there was a lot of wildlife in the area, particularly little songbirds who flew away from us with calls of alarm. I was assigned to chop down a tall, thick mass of stunningly beautiful fountain grass. It was so massive that three people would have had difficulty joining hands around it. I questioned cutting down such a beautiful and obviously very old plant but was told that it would spread if not eradicated. The work party organizer grabbed handfuls of the hapless plant and showed me how to cut it down. More little birds flew out of it, with pitiful cries of distress. So I again questioned cutting it down. Yes, I was told, that massive fountain of long, showy green plumes with purple-tinged stems that were two to three times my height was “incredibly invasive”, fast spreading, and would “suffocate” native plants, and might even pose a “risk” to wildlife, which of course sounded terrible. I did notice that although the clump to which I was assigned was massive, there were no others like it in the several acres that we were clearing. I wish I had stopped there. But I did not, and that afternoon I sat next to that fragrant grass shelter of many, many little birds and hacked away at it. The homeowner who lived in the house just behind the fountain grass called out to me, with a distress in tune with that of the little birds, “Stop, please stop, my wild birds live there. Please stop.” So I went to check for the last time with the work party organizer, who said “Go ahead, we have authorization to clear that invasive weed, it has to be done.” That was nonsense. I left that afternoon after robbing little birds of a significant portion of their safe home, and I spoiled a delicate, cherished wildlife interaction for the people of that neighborhood.
Mea culpa, and foolish me. It pains me to think of what I did that day.
Caption: Flock Of Birds Tapestry
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018