April 8, 2020

Persistence vs. Stubbornness

DANBY 02-23-12

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

I trim the edges of our fields every fall.  It sounds simple.  It didn’t take long to write.  Unfortunately, it’s a huge undertaking.  There’s more than 100 acres of field to worry about.  I haven’t measured the perimeters.  At least not with a tape.

Trimming them is important because, left undone, the edges creep in and the fields shrink.  It’s alarming how quickly.

Quite a large number of species including alder, hawthorn, pucker brush, pussy willow, and red osier actually reproduce by the adult stems falling over and re-rooting.  New saplings then spring up from the fallen trunks.  An alder might reach 20 feet before falling over.  Perhaps it takes 10 years to grow that high.  (These species also reproduce sexually.  In truth, it’s amazing all the ways these plants have of proliferating.)

Given that rate, if left untrimmed, a field shrinks by 20 feet all the way around every 10 years.

Worse, this process compounds on itself.  In 20 years, a field could be 40 feet smaller.  In 30 years, 60 feet.  And so on.  Over time, it’s clear that regardless of how big a field was originally, it can disappear completely simply through failure to trim the edges.

I just hate that.

The worst part is the persistence with which these species keep at it.  Clip, chop, chainsaw, bulldoze, whatever you do to control them this year, those pussy willows and that red osier are back at it next.  You had better be, too.  Because those alder clumps you see when you bend down and look through the woods are all interconnected, one to the other.  Cutting dozens to the ground, stacking and burning them this fall is not going to eliminate the need to trim the edges of your fields next year. Or the year after that.  Nor the next.  Nor the next.  Ad infinitum.

On reflection, that’s what makes it strange.  My wife calls me a stubborn man.  In fact, she insists on it in loud and indignant tones.

Sure, I’m out there every year, every fall, trimming back the edges of our fields.  If that makes me stubborn, I won’t deny it.

But alders have me beat by miles.  So do pussy willows.  As for pucker brush?  That stuff is invincible.  And red osier?  That plant should be banned.

Because every year, the trimming needs to be done again.  Every fall, the alders, pussy willows, red osier, pucker brush and hawthorn have grown back along the edges of our fields.  Saplings have sprung up from the stumps of last year’s trimmings.  I can only be awed by the dogged determination of life.

More than determined, these plants are persistent.

I shake my head at the irony.  My wife should see what I see.  I might be stubborn.  But I’m not going to live forever.  The year is coming when I’m not going to be here to trim these fields.  The truth is that all of these plants will be here long after I’m dead and gone.

I trim along, marveling.  It’s clear that persistence is going to beat stubborn, hands down.  It’s going to beat clippers, axes and chainsaws.  It’ll top burning brush piles and even bulldozers.  Thinking about it, persistence will beat intellect and the powerful equipment that it created.

Given all that, what do you want to bet that my children plant red osier on my grave?

Serve me right for being stubborn, won’t it?