Monthly Archives: July 2008

Monday Muse: Kudzu is Coming– UPDATED

I know this is long, but having just –oops– done an even longer post about kudzu, this poem by James Dickey seemed to be relevant–perhaps even unavoidable.


    Japan invades. Far Eastern vines
    Run from the clay banks they are

    Supposed to keep from eroding.
    Up telephone poles,
    Which rear, half out of leafage
    As though they would shriek,
    Like things smothered by their own
    Green, mindless, unkillable ghosts.
    In Georgia, the legend says
    That you must close your windows

    At night to keep it out of the house.
    The glass is tinged with green, even so,

    As the tendrils crawl over the fields.
    The night the kudzu has
    Your pasture, you sleep like the dead.
    Silence has grown Oriental
    And you cannot step upon ground:
    Your leg plunges somewhere
    It should not, it never should be,
    Disappears, and waits to be struck

    Anywhere between sole and kneecap:
    For when the kudzu comes,

    The snakes do, and weave themselves
    Among its lengthening vines,
    Their spade heads resting on leaves,
    Growing also, in earthly power
    And the huge circumstance of concealment.
    One by one the cows stumble in,
    Drooling a hot green froth,
    And die, seeing the wood of their stalls

    Strain to break into leaf.
    In your closed house, with the vine

    Tapping your window like lightning,
    You remember what tactics to use.
    In the wrong yellow fog-light of dawn
    You herd them in, the hogs,
    Head down in their hairy fat,
    The meaty troops, to the pasture.
    The leaves of the kudzu quake
    With the serpents’ fear, inside

    The meadow ringed with men
    Holding sticks, on the country roads.

    The hogs disappear in the leaves.
    The sound is intense, subhuman,
    Nearly human with purposive rage.
    There is no terror
    Sound from the snakes.
    No one can see the desperate, futile
    Striking under the leaf heads.
    Now and then, the flash of a long

    Living vine, a cold belly,
    Leaps up, torn apart, then falls

    Under the tussling surface.
    You have won, and wait for frost,
    When, at the merest touch
    Of cold, the kudzu turns
    Black, withers inward and dies,
    Leaving a mass of brown strings
    Like the wires of a gigantic switchboard.
    You open your windows,

    With the lightning restored to the sky
    And no leaves rising to bury

    You alive inside your frail house,
    And you think, in the opened cold,
    Of the surface of things and its terrors,
    And of the mistaken, mortal
    Arrogance of the snakes
    As the vines, growing insanely, sent
    Great powers into their bodies
    And the freedom to strike without warning:

    From them, though they killed
    Your cattle, such energy also flowed

    To you from the knee-high meadow
    (It was as though you had
    A green sword twined among
    The veins of your growing right arm–
    Such strength as you would not believe
    If you stood alone in a proper
    Shaved field among your safe cows–):
    Came in through your closed

    Leafy windows and almighty sleep
    And prospered, till rooted out.

        –James Dickey

Run! Run for your life! Kudzu is coming– (revised)

This is a revised (shortened) version of the original post, which included a long section from the lawn-care article mentioned below. For that article in its original context, click here for the weed page and scroll down for kudzu.

 KOkudzu, experiments kudzu on the march– photo from the Coalition.

Research spin-off

The endless lawn article (Hey—how’d that work as a movie title? The Endless Lawn Article. You know, as a sequel to The Endless Story? No?) included a section on weeds, of course, and it occurred to me to wonder if the most famous weed of all, kudzu, was a problem in lawns. So I started googling away, and found things that made it hard to sleep at night.


I swear, kudzu is the stuff of nightmares and really bad science fiction movies, but it’s real. It’s a leguminous vine—yes, it’s cousin to your beans and peas, and brother to soy beans—but unlike any of those, it can grow several feet per week, enveloping entire trees, which it kills by depriving them of light and water. It looks most spectacular when draped over a thirty-foot-tall tree, but left unchecked, it will take over whatever is in its way, including, yes, your lawn.

Continue reading

Bare-Naked Potato Stems: advice needed–

Here’s my potato patch, the morning after the hail storm:


You’ll have to take my word for it that two days ago it looked quite bright and bushy-tailed in a potato-patchy sort of way. Looking at that patch last week, one could believe that some potatoes, even in this age of slippery values,  retained a strong sense of purpose in their potato-hood. Proud to be potatoes, they seemed enthusiastic about this business of producing little potatoes.

But now look at it.

Anyone got any idea what to do with a potato patch that looks like this? They were just about to flower. I’ve mulched the bed heavily to protect any potatoes from heat (once the ice melts, that is.) (Maybe a course of lecures on the work-ethic of potatoes? I’ll ask Bush for his post-Katrina action plan; that should help.)

There were plenty of small pine bits about for mulching, so that part was easy. I thought I’d wait and see if there’s any sign of life from these stems. I’m inclined to leave the plants that sprout new leaves and yank any that just keel over and give up the ghost, to keep them from rotting in the ground. There are potatoes; I checked.

Does anyone have any actual information or experience that bears on this denuded potato-stem situation? Relevant moral or work-ethic lectures also welcome.

Post-garden post: Lettuce, anyone?

I’m going to open a restaurant.




Customer: So—what are you serving for lunch today?
Me: Well, we have shredded lettuce, torn lettuce, lettuce julienne, and mangled lettuce.
Customer: And the soup?
Me: Lettuce puree.
Customer: Hmm.
Me: And make up your mind quick, because it’s all going to start rotting in about five minutes!

I expect an enthusiastic, upscale clientel.

Post-Garden Post: Garden? What garden?

I wrote about the storm yesterday.

Front-page headline in the local paper today: "All Hail Breaks Loose." Trees and tree branches down all over town, power out, gardens ruined, flooding downtown,  etc. etc. etc. No news yet about how local farmers fared. That’ll probably be in tomorrow’s paper.


That green blot above was my mid-summer lettuce plot; it gets a couple of hours’ sun in the morning, then shade all day, so lettuce usually does well there right through August.

So I’m trying to get used to a world without a garden. Almost as a perverse exercise, I’m “looking on the bright side.” (Maybe I should try a limerick.)  This is not like me.

A confirmed and dedicated pessimist, I loved the poster a former dentist of mine had on his wall: it showed a damp and furious-looking kitten, with the caption, “Don’t tell ME to have a good day!” There’s a remarkable resemblance here to the meditative advice: sit with the emotion, whatever it is. I keep close to my heart the story about an African tribe that honored grief: instead of hurrying a widow through it, they provided the option of a second funeral if she felt the need a year after her husband’s death.

(Please don’t ask me which tribe; I don’t know. Which means the story could be apocryphal; most of us know so little about Africa that we could get away with almost anything by prefacing it with the words “There’s a tribe in Africa that—” I find this increasingly embarassing as I meet and become friends with more and more Africans.)

Nevertheless, here I am making lists of possible benefits to being garden-less.

There are the obvious ones–

  Think how much more time I’ll have!   

   There’s  plenty of space for fall crops!

–and the practical ones–

   I won’t have to water anything for at least a week. (Ooh–that one doesn’t really work, since there isn’t really much left to water.  Try again.)

   Good thing Steve’s brothers arrive tonight; I’ll have plenty of help with the clean-up! (Brace yourselves guys; I hope you brought your rakes.)

–the pseudo-practical ones–

   Look–the salad lettuce is pre-torn!

   There’s certainly lots of green stuff around for the compost heap!

   And it’s already mulched!

   Hey–all my trees have been trimmed–for free!

   At least I don’t have to figure out what to do with all that extra lettuce.

–the defensive ones–

 Now no one will know how late I was with my garden this year!

And then there are those that are clearly the products of a twisted mind:

   Wow, I sure seem cheerful–now we know my anti-depressant medication is working!

   The compost pile came through without a scratch!

   That trip in September? The one I almost didn’t want to go on, because it meant I’d miss the fall harvest? Well, now I won’t.

But my older son’s contribution is the best:

#1 Son: Well, it’s not everyone who gets to have the question of whether God really and truly hates them answered so clearly and definitively. No more wondering! No more questioning! That knowledge is priceless. You’re not writing that down, are you?

Me: No, never.

#1 Son: Well, you should. It’s better than anything you could come up with!

Ain’t it the truth. As my mother-in-law used to say, You gotta laugh.