Made a Difference to That One

By Beverley Rivera

When the gyms closed because of Coronavirus, I started pacing around my local trail instead. The trail angered me because of the prevalence of invasive plants. There are acres of lesser celandine, which were all in glorious bloom at the time, groves of Chinese wisteria, areas where all you can see is English ivy and bamboo, and impenetrable thickets of multiflora rose. But what really bothered me as I stomped around the trail yanking out armfuls of garlic mustard, was the number of tiny shrubs and trees that were completely overrun with honeysuckle and oriental bittersweet; our fledgling future forest was being girdled, smothered and out-competed by invasive plants.

Sapling in a strangle hold

At that time, very few of the tiny trees actually had leaves; but the bittersweet and honeysuckle start early, snaking to the top of the plants and then branching into an anchor before spreading and flourishing. What appeared to be a healthy leafy plant was actually a tiny stick of a seedling smothered with invasive vines.

Like most Master Naturalists, I suddenly had time on my hands due to the cancellation of many volunteer opportunities, so along my walks I started untangling the tiny plants and cutting back the vines. I knew it was a temporary measure, the invasives would be back, but my rationale was to give the seedlings a season to grow unencumbered and when invasive workdays resume, try to get back to do a more thorough job.

Making a Difference: I was reminded of that old story where someone walks along a beach and discovers thousands of starfish have been washed up and are dying. The person starts picking them up and tossing them back into the ocean. A passer-by comments that there are so many that it was impossible to make a difference; to which the starfish tosser replies, ‘Made a difference to that one’.

Sapling freed from entanglement

Walking the trail now, I am amazed by what a difference one person can make, I see healthy young trees and shrubs leafing out and it inspires me for what can be achieved when it is safe to resume our regular invasive management workdays again.

Planning Ahead: Careful planning is something that doesn’t always happen during the chaos of my everyday life. But instead of just jumping in and trying to get things done, I now have the time to plan: ‘How could I turn this into a learning experience for a school group?’ ‘When is a good time of year for inexperienced volunteers to be removing certain plants?’ ‘How could this seemingly impossible situation be made to work?’

Cultivating Patience: Last year I was involved in setting up an invasive management program at Lake Accotink Park and we were just at the point of getting a steady group of volunteers and making significant progress, when the Fairfax County Park Authority asked us to halt all activities until it is safe to have large gatherings again. Like other Master Naturalists, this also meant that many of my other events were cancelled. So, I have had to develop a patient attitude; things will get done, just not right at the moment. It was a major adjustment, but my frenetic exercise program has turned into enjoyable strolls where I notice things that I never noticed previously, a hillside covered with may apples, bluebirds, a fern I’ve never seen before. It’s allowed me to step back and enjoy the things that make us Master Naturalists in the first place.

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