Reddy Branch-a work in progress, part I

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I wrote a post a few weeks ago, titled Destruction, about the years my son and I have battled the invasive vines, bushes, and other plants in the many parks where we live. One in particular, Reddy Branch, has become the focus of our efforts.  

I thought, perhaps, that I might occasionally write about my progress and include some photos. The oaks are magnificent and the floor of the forest is opening to the holly.

My wife uses this expression with our children when they despair about all of the ills in the world. “Find your little corner of the world and start working and fixing. You can’t solve all of the world’s problems. That little corner is what you can accomplish.”

I can’t wave a magic wand and make these woods whole again. I can’t bring back the ancient woods of centuries ago. But I can take a hundred or so acres and make them as beautiful and as pure as possible and I can make sure trees recently planted stay free and grow straight.

The patch of woods I work in now would not fall into any definition of beautiful. It does not have the rugged grandeur of a Shenandoah ridgeline. It is not a densely vegetated, dripping wet Monongahela hollow, lush with rhododendron. But, there are old, hundred year farm trees, mainly oaks, left from when this land was cleared for farming or perhaps used as a wood lot. It is a start.

The land is made up of gently rolling hills. My work is on the southernmost edge of the woods bordered by ball fields. I am working my way  north to where I work to maintain the health of about 10 acres of planted trees which have been planted to further protect the watershed from run-off. The northern woods are mostly free of invasives; the trees are older, straighter, and less encumbered with vines and bushes. At no time in a walk through these woods are the cornfields to the west out of sight. The homes to the east appear according to the folds of the land and the height of their roofs.

I began to call this place  my “own” almost ten years ago when I moved to this town from another in the county and was looking for somewhere more local to ply my trade-the destruction of invasive species. I had received my training before then and had freelanced my services to other supervisors and wandered other parks, cutting and pulling as I went. Oriental Bittersweet became my specialty. Immense vines, as thick around as your wrist. The process? Curtains and windows.

Windows: Cut as low and as high as you can. Create a window in the vine: a window to open a chance for the tree to survive all of the pulling, all of the weight, all of the drain on its water and nutrients.  

Curtains: Pull them back. Some trees are sheathed in curtains of vines-bittersweet, honeysuckle, grape, and trumpet. Leave the grape, it’s native. Leave the trumpet flower because it is beautiful and relatively harmless. Cut the bittersweet and honeysuckle. They will strangle and topple the tree.

If you can, then go back with a pulaski, mattock, or axe and pull the root from the ground. If you just cut, the vine will eventually grow back. You’ve bought time for the tree but have made no guarantees.

The supervisor of volunteers in the park system showed me this place, knowing I lived close. We worked a few times with a large group, clearing ivy from the trees, beginning an inventory of what needed to be done.

I have come to feel possessive of my woods, happy to share with the neighborhood walkers and the children cutting through on the way over to the ballfields. Though there seem to be fewer of the latter now that several trees have fallen across the trail where it leaves the woods to continue on down the hill to the ballfields..

Perhaps this is best; the amount of discarded bottles and other detritus of children has decreased. As this is not a designated park trail but a social trail, I do not clear it of branches and other debris; these offerings from the trees slow erosion and let me pretend that the woods are a little more remote and wild than they actually are.

Let me speak to the word “branch” for a moment. Branch refers to a small stream or tributary. The stream that runs at the bottom of the ridge is a two foot wide, 3-12 inch deep affair. It runs into a deeper creek at the eastern edge of the wood, before the road. The branch is a clean, well-pebbled waterway. Someone has thrown a piece of plywood over it when it bisects the trail. An ugly bridge but I understand the need to keep shoes free of mud.

I plan to take more photos of what I come across and give some updates.

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