There was a man I knew from the town where I lived. He was old when I knew him, and I never knew what it was that he had done when he was younger. When I would see him in town, he was often driving a small truck, the bed of which was filled to overflowing with bits of branches, small trees, bushes, thorns, that sort of thing. He worked for the conservancy in town, and his goal was to remove the species that he had come to consider invasive. No matter the size or shape of the plant, no matter the proficiency of the bloom or the hardness of the wood; if it wasn’t supposed to be here he tore it up and hauled it away in his truck.
After some time of this clearing, the conservancy began to look less like a woodland and more like a prairie, which is how he said it should have been all along. Once when I was flipping through pages of a local history book at the town library, I saw a whole chapter about the great woodlands of this area, and how when the settlers arrived the woods were dense and deep, and the settlers thought the woods to be so deep that they rumored spirits lived in them, and this made them nearly turned back to the East. I told the old man this, and he shook his head with disgust. He said that before those trees there was just prairie, and that the trees themselves were invasive.
After the obvious invasives were gone, the old man took to his research. It seems as though some varieties of maple were native to this town, but others were not. Maples were not maples, he insisted, and so he cut down the maples that didn’t belong, much to the dismay of the Maple Society. Some oaks were fine to remain, but other oaks were generally only found on the eastern end of this town’s county, so he cut those down, too. When the old man was much older, the wooded land was gone, and only prairie remained.
The prairie was nice, most of the people thought. They would cross country ski over it in the winter and walk through it in the summer. After time, woodland creatures were replaced by prairie creatures, and once someone mentioned that through the early morning fog they thought they saw a bison on the far northern edge of the prairie. Everyone agreed that this was a terrific possibility.
With no more work to do, the man aged more rapidly, and he took up the assist of a walker. He wasn’t found driving around town quite so much, but if anyone wished to see him they could find him on the boardwalk, sitting on the bench that he built atop the stump of the last invasive oak that he felled by himself. He felt his age and his recent lack of purpose accelerated the process that would lead to his end. Recognizing that he needed a new focus, he loaded into his small truck and drove the margins of town, looking for something that he might champion before his light went dim.
People waved as he drove through the neighborhoods, and as he drove down the country roads that hemmed the farmer’s fields. He hunched over his steering wheel and peered out the window, scanning the foliage for something that didn’t belong, when he took note of the incredible numbers of mulberry trees that dotted the edges of those farmer’s fields and that hid in the woods behind the neighborhood houses. How he loved mulberries, and for a moment he sat in the truck and remembered the fine mulberry crisps that his mother made when he was just a child. He remembered greedily eating them straight off the low hanging branches with his grandmother. He remembered his wife making sweet mulberry jam, and he wished that she were still with him to make just one more jar. That night, he went to the old tree in his own back yard and picked mulberries until his fingers were stained and his belly ached.
The headline in the Wednesday paper read, “TOWN DECLARES WAR ON INVASIVES”. The old man saw the headline and prepared himself for a gushing review of his lifetime of work. Satisfied with what he was about to read, he sat and turned to the article. Quickly, he realized that this wasn’t to be an ode to his efforts, there would be no community applause for the hard work that he had done. This was, instead, an article that was written by the newest volunteer at the conservancy, a volunteer who had taken aim at an invasive “weed tree”, as he called it, from Asia. This tree hosted silkworm, which no one liked because the accompanying picture was grotesquely close up. The tree that would need to go was the Mulberry. The black mulberry, the red mulberry, and the white mulberry. They would all need to be cut down, because an invasive is an invasive, and the old man, his belly still full from the night before, grabbed for the last few mulberries from his bowl and shook his head in resignation. The young volunteer was right.