In the Southern States of the US, a non-native vine called Kudzu is spreading at a rate of something like 150,000 acres a year, and it’s coming North. It’s recently been found in Leamington, Ontario, and might well be on the march toward Toronto, where I live. Horrors! The “vine that ate the South” approacheth! Naturalist Bill Finch, writing on the Smithsonian website, thinks the purportedly world-ending grip of this invasive plant is a load of hype:
Maybe he’s right, he’s the naturalist, not me, but I can draw no comfort from his thesis. Even if Kudzu isn’t a mortal threat right out of The Day of the Triffids, we still aren’t safe. No, not by a long shot. There subsists among us another deplorable vine, a plant so horrible, so steadfast in its will to conquer, so irrepressible, that I’ve no doubt it would devour without mercy, and without even breaking a sweat, any poor Kudzu that wandered within its strangling grasp: the Wisteria.
The word itself prompts terrified little shivers! Wisteria. EEEK!
If there’s anything in this world you love, be it your spouse, your cat, your house, your car, anything that might be fixed in place, or could fall asleep and stay in one spot for more than 45 minutes, do not, for the love of all that’s holy, let a wisteria anywhere near it. If there’s one in the vicinity, beat it back. Fight while you still can. If you catch it early enough, you might be able to keep this most malevolent of climbing plants at bay, but if you leave it alone you’ll soon have no option but to flee. Trust me, once it’s all nice and big and fat and healthy, you’ll be lucky if you can stay ahead of its snapping tendrils on a fast horse. You doubt it? You say I wax hyperbolic? Fine, live in your little fool’s paradise, but one fine morning you’re not going to wake up, and your wife is going to find you blue in the face and as dead as a nit, with a green cord wrapped tight around your witless complacent throat.
Listen, buddy, I know whereof I speak. I had a wisteria in my backyard, once. Oh yes. It perched across the top of a sort of Japanese trellis. It was in bloom when we bought the house, and it was pretty, the way the Devil will disguise itself as a glowing angel in order to suck you in, the way an assassin always approaches you with a smile, hand outstretched. I didn’t understand the nature of the threat, I was hopelessly oblivious, and spent the whole summer absorbed by other concerns until I looked out the back window one day, and saw a characteristic wisteria bloom at the top of a lamp post adjacent to my backyard, the pole maybe 30 feet away from the trellis. Another bloom was at the top of a nearby pine tree. I went out into the backyard and looked more closely. The vine had sent multiple tendrils, winding themselves around each other into something like a living green rope, in order to reach across the back alley behind our house and grab on to the roofs of the garages across the way. Shit on a shingle, how did it even know how to do that? Other tendrils were crawling across the lawn towards the foundation of the house. Still others had crawled along the top of the backyard fence, reaching toward the upper floors of my home. I was under stealthy siege. It was full-on war. It was a slow motion Pearl Harbour.
So I hacked, and hacked, and hacked the Hellish thing back. My property became the Korean peninsula in microcosm; there was a DMZ between my dwelling and the totalitarian hermit kingdom of the Peoples’ Republic of Wisteria. From that first summer on, as the mutant freakish ninja vine persisted in its relentless efforts to push me off the face of the Earth, I engaged it in vicious close combat. Every weekend, from April to the end of September, I was out there on a ladder, wielding what tools I could buy that would give me a way to curtail the damnable plant. It was sweaty work, out there in the heat and humidity of the always awful Toronto summers. It was even a little bit dangerous.
I fought with gusto, I struck with strength, yet despite all my efforts, the festering thing kept getting bigger, and it became an effort, year over year, to restrict it to an acceptable rate of growth within its ever-expanding empire. By year eight, or nine, it was like a huge, self-contained, sub-tropical ecosystem at the foot of our little backyard, blocking out the sun. It was ten feet higher than the trellis upon which it rested. It was a sort of horizontal tree. It had something akin to a trunk, at least four inches in diameter, that wound its way from the ground up the post of the trellis, there to spread out upon the top. It was relentless. Insatiable. It was possessed of a mind, I swear to God, day and night it was drawing its plans against me.
During the ongoing war, as prolonged as the conflict in Viet Nam, the vine dropped all pretence. No need to beguile any more with phoney costumes. The thing stopped blooming. As big as it became, and despite all the pruning and hacking it kept netting out as bigger, it was all over with the flowering stuff. If I wanted flowers, I could surrender, unconditionally. Otherwise, it was just green leafy tendrils going everywhere, unadorned, and screw you, homeowner, that’s what you get. I could hear it whispering in the night. I’m coming for you, primate. You will be mine. Your wife will be mine. All that you own and value will be mine. Frigging primate. You gave yourselves a name that implied you were top of the pyramid, primate, but guess what? That was nothing but a conceit. You aren’t the master of the natural world, see? Look at me take over your turf, hairless ape. What good are your much-vaunted opposable thumbs now, eh? You’re the apex organism? It is to laugh.
So the struggle continued. Year over year.
Meanwhile, one Christmas, the usual package of presents from home included a rather odd box from my brother. It was labelled Combat Tomahawk. I figured it was some sort of gag, but upon opening the parcel, what I found was this terrifying thing:
What, dummy, you thought the label on the box was a joke? Nope. When it said on the lid that it was a combat tomahawk, what it meant was, it was a combat tomahawk. It was that fucking simple. The sinister weapon had circular holes in the blade to defeat suction when you wanted to pull it out of the perhaps still-quivering body of the foe, the better to deliver another killing blow. It had a nice, non-slip rubber handle for when the wet work, you know, got a little slippery. The edge of the blade seemed as keen as a scalpel. On a hunch I took it to a sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper, and yup, it cut through it like a hot knife through Jell-O.
“Hey”, said my bro’, “how often do you get a Christmas present that was first developed for combat in Viet Nam?”.
First developed for combat in Viet Nam. Yes, this particular sub-species of tomahawk had once been issued to the “Lurps”, the long range patrol soldiers who forayed deep into the jungle, for weeks at a time, on missions to ambush Viet-Cong guerillas. Just a tool of the trade. Often, on missions of that sort, it was tactically advantageous to kill quietly, right?
This thing was a nightmare. I reckoned I could take down the average front door with it in less than a minute. The front end could sever a limb. The back end could puncture a skull like a fork pierces a baked potato. I took it to a secluded corner of the basement and hid it away.
You can see where this is going, right?
One summer, I realized I had lazily failed to engage in my weekend battle with the goddam wisteria, and in the result it was vigorously pursuing a new plan of conquest. It was probing with green inter-twined tendrils towards all points of the compass. It was fixing to conquer. Another few days, and the neighborhood would be secured, and from there, who knew? Maybe, in a couple of years, Toronto would be a monoculture. Wisteriaville – No! The Floral Vine’s Popular Plant Republic of WisteriaLand! Yeah! It was within the thing’s grasp. It could smell victory. The awful primate overlords would be sent packing, and a new age of photosynthetic supremacy was just around the corner.
I looked out my back window, balefully, perceiving the onslaught in the way the Germans must have recognized what was happening at Normandy, and then the solution occurred to me. I ran to the basement. I found the combat tomahawk. I rushed out to the foot of the trellis and began hacking a four-inch gap in the trunk of the infernal vine, right where it emerged from the soil and began its climb up the trellis. Die!!!! Die, Hellish plant!!! I smite thee!! I was out of my mind with rage. I practically screamed the power of Christ compels you!
Tell the truth, it was more than a little scary how that razor-sharp combat tomahawk sliced through the trunk of the wisteria. It was at least twice as thick as the average thigh bone, and three times as tough. Three strokes, no more, and it was severed. Just a few more and there was a space as wide as my out-stretched fingers between where it emerged from the ground, and where it continued its climb up the trellis. It was brutally easy. It felt almost like murder.
I had won. It was over.
I hired a tree-pruning service to come in and dismantle the dead remains of the enormous corpse of intertwined branches atop the trellis. They also removed the source of the demon at the root, digging a crater at least four feet deep in my little backyard. As best as they could tell, it was completely excised. The wisteria exorcism was over, a success.
They must have missed one or two wisteria cells, though. As I look out my back window today, I can see a green tendril poking up out of the earth that fills the crater from which the monster once grew. Its remnants want back into the fray. They want revenge.
O.K. Bring it on, plant. I’m a primate. Primates are better than jumped up juvenile pea sprouts like you. So come on, then. Try me. I’ll sleep wth my combat tomahawk under my pillow, and one fine day, you’ll make your move, and we’ll see what we will see.