Japanese knotweed? What IS that? And how could the bamboo-like plant with the nice white flowers be so bad?
There it was, looking all innocent and lovely, growing profusely around the Brightwood Park parking lot. It looked blameless to me, and kind of pretty, besides.
Then I learned about its somewhat alarming habits.
Phil Round, one of Friends of Brightwood Park's resident experts, summed it up to our group of volunteers, gathered for the cleanup at the park on this bright sunshiny morning. I also looked it up on Google:
- Japenese knotweed is native to East Asia
- Some lenders will decline all mortgage applications for properties where knotweed is present
- It is classified as an aggressive, destructive and invasive pest
- It spreads rapidly, forming dense thickets, crowding out and shading out native vegetation, reducing species diversity
- There is very little other growth underneath it, so the bare soil is susceptible to erosion
OK, OK, I was convinced. A thoroughly bad actor. But it was, maybe, 10 or 15 feet tall! And besides, there was so incredibly much of it! What exactly were we going to do about this thing?
It turns out that cutting knotweed is not difficult. Your lopper or shears cut right through the hollow stem. Problem is there are so many stems. So MANY millions of stems! And then you HAVE to drag the long stems into a pile in the parking lot for the Dept. of Public Works to cart away.
Actually, well, you DON'T really have to do any of this... No cutting. No dragging.
But for some reason, our band of volunteers was committed to doing it.
As we were hacking and slicing, cutting, whacking and dragging, I pondered this: here is a group of people who presumably have other things to do on a beautiful Saturday morning. And yet, here we are, young and old, in our old jeans and garden gloves, slick with sweat and bug spray, working like our lives depend on it.
Did our lives depend on it? Assuredly, no. But our way of life does.
It's a way of life that values something precious: a nature preserve that belongs to us all. A place like no other in Westfield. A place that our children can enjoy because we worked hard on it.
A place that needs us now.
We were amazed at the extent of the trash, in piles both deep and wide. We walked forward into the woods, crunching glass underfoot, over piles of thousands of liquor bottles, mostly broken. Possibly this was a gathering place for drinkers who then threw their bottles against the tree trunks...maybe for fun, or vying for distance...? We also saw smashed dishes, cups, furniture, garden hoses and plenty of plastic refuse in this rubbish heap. There was a variety of shoes, and several pairs of ancient "nylons" to accompany them. Hoping to possibly find something valuable, like a diamond ring, we were also anxious we'd discover something worthy of Forensic Files. When someone unearthed a leg (see photo), there was a collective intake of breath, but it was a mannequin's leg.
Some of us wrestled out larger items; a water heater, tires, a bed frame, lawn chairs, a broken couch... with the help of a pickaxe and a wheelbarrow which someone had the foresight to bring. But most of the Friends of Brightwood Park volunteers sat or knelt on a cleared spot among the struggling undergrowth, gathering shards and various pieces of multicolored glass for hours, dropping them into our sturdy Home Depot buckets, using heavy work gloves. The more we collected, the more we found, in layer upon layer. We took turns carrying or passing along the heavy, full buckets down the trail to the awaiting dumpster, rented for the occasion.
Among us, someone said loudly: "I never knew working could be so much fun". Surprisingly, there were assenting comments all around, in the woods, among the toiling volunteers. We probably sensed the atmosphere of friendly teamwork. And we additionally may have felt the rush of satisfaction found in striving towards a goal larger than ourselves, that of improving the environment for everyone.
But most of all, there was a feeling of delight. For it was obvious to all our eyes that this area of Brightwood Park hadn't looked THIS good in many, many years.
John Linderman, Tom Mann, Nicole Chartrain, Denise Ricci