There’s a spot not far from home where the wee wife and I like to go to enjoy a little beach time with the grandkids. To get there, we wind our way along back roads, passing through fields of tall, tasseled corn or verdant soy. When we come to a “No Outlet” sign, we know we’re almost there and sure enough, in another couple of miles, the road comes to a full and sudden stop on a tiny spit of land. To the left, there’s a broad expanse of navigable creek; to the right, on the other end of a narrow cut, there’s a little sandy beach that looks out on a lovely cove and beyond, to the broad reach of the Chesapeake Bay.
It’s a pleasant drive but at one point along the way, we pass through an eerie landscape covered with kudzu. Kudzu is a climbing, coiling, trailing perennial vine, native to parts of East and Southeast Asia. It was introduced into the United States at the Japanese pavilion during the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. At the time, kudzu was thought to have several beneficial properties: as a food source (kudzu roots contain a starch commonly used in Japanese and Vietnamese cooking), as an herbal remedy when brewed in a tea, or even as a fibrous plant that could be turned into paper or clothing. But alas; when more than a million acres of kudzu was planted throughout the south, it quickly turned into a noxious weed that caused severe ecological damage by outcompeting native flora for light. Kudzu grows over trees, shading their foliage, eventually choking them to death and has become such a problem that some southern cities have used herds of goats and llamas to graze on the roots of the plant to stop, or at least limit, its malicious spread.
Now kudzu is here in Maryland and working its way northward, another likely manifestation of the damage caused by climate change. But despite its noxious nature, I admit I find a certain beauty in kudzu: left unchecked, it creates a haunted forest full of fantastic shapes and textures, a seemingly serene world that belies the vine’s evil intent. Soon enough, all that kudzu will cover and destroy all the surrounding host trees and plants. Nothing will be left. It makes me think of Robert Frost’s poem Fire and Ice: “Some say the world will end in fire/Some say in ice.” I’m beginning to think maybe it’s neither; maybe the world just ends in kudzu.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Kudzu is just a weed and like any weed, it can be controlled, even eradicated. Scientists and agronomists know what to do: kill the root crown (a fibrous knob of tissue that sits atop the vine’s roots) and the plant can’t propagate. Close mowing works; so does heavy grazing. (Remember those goats and llamas?) The point is there’s a relatively simple solution to the kudzu problem—kind of like wearing a mask, washing our hands, and practicing social distancing. All it takes is effective leadership and a concerted effort. I know; easy enough to say…
But if that sounds too complicated, maybe we could all go to the polls or mail in our ballots and vote all that kudzu away.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with a home in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com