Battle with aggressive plants takes good path

By Norman Knight

Becky and I took advantage of the spring-like weather by marching down the path into the woods to do battle with our arch nemesis, the Evil Multiflora Rose.

We were packing clippers, blades, rakes, poisons and other necessary weapons of this endless war. Our enemy was amassed on the hillside, tangled coils of twisting branches and fearsome thorns like Satanic spaghetti. But we were resolute, secure in the rightness of our cause. Once more unto the breach!

Our theater of battle would be a small hillside in the forest just off the main path to the pond. The shady spot is normally thick with delicate ferns but the encroachment of the vile weed was beginning to dominate the beautiful space.

During the winter season, the view is more open in the woods which makes it easier to notice the extent of the expansion and helps in distinguishing the original inhabitants from the thorny interlopers. We struggled mightily, sustaining only minor wounds, and although we didn’t eliminate the invader (most likely impossible), we pushed it back to manageable borders which will allow the ferns to resume their rightful place on the hill.

As I was conducting raking-up operations, I noticed that our cutting and raking had resulted in the beginnings of a path. I let my eyes move up an imaginary trail running up the side of the hill away from the ferns. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a path through a part of the woods where we rarely walk?” I thought.

Paths fascinated me as a kid, and they fascinate me still. As a young boy, I was excited to visit my cousins who lived way, way out in the wilds of Nineveh. We took a steep path through the winding woods to get down to the creek behind their house.

I was in Heaven when my family made trips to Brown County State Park, and I could pretend I was almost lost as I explored the paths that always brought me back to our camp. Now, on our own property, Becky and I can wander paths for hours. It continues to be a kind of Heaven.

My favorite paths are the ones made by animals. Deer trails weave through our mostly wooded acres. As I walk the land I try to discern where the deer trails wind through the trees. Most of the time I can figure out where they go. Sometimes I get stopped by a thicket of multiflora rose, and sometimes I discover that I’m not really on a deer path after all, just a momentary natural clearing through the undergrowth. If I keep looking around, though, it’s not long before I spot another possible deer route.

Domesticated animals also make paths, especially ones that are confined within an area. You can tell if a family has dogs by the patterns of well-worn dirt paths around the perimeters of the backyard fence. Cows, too, make paths by a similar daily repetition of movements. From what I’ve observed, they take the easy slopes and usually follow the path of least resistance.

Human beings — who some argue also are domesticated — are good path makers, too, although we are usually much more intentional about the paths we make. I saw a documentary once about how people make their own paths in outdoor public spaces and designers of such spaces have learned to predict where those paths will be and arrange walkways accordingly.

Humans also are good metaphorical path makers. Like dogs and cows we find ourselves following the same paths, doing the same things over and over. We have a tendency to take the path of least resistance. We set out on a path — a career, a relationship — and when we don’t pay attention, we sometimes lose sight of where we are going.

But right now, I know where I am going. I am heading back into the woods to do battle with the Evil Multiflora Rose.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to