Holgate Overpass Update:
It finally rained this last weekend! Somewhere around .3″. Woohoo! It will be the most rain that we’ve received since March. It’s been dry! In April the City cut down the ‘weedscape’ on the northeast approach of the Holgate Overpass. It’s rained very little since and we’ve had record warm temperatures all summer. No one has come back to spray, plant or do anything. No one’s even picked up the trash. If you compare the four ‘weedscapes’ on the two approaches they are very similar. The NE, by volume has had the most regrowth. This is for two different reasons: first, this site was cut earlier in the season when there was more moisture still in the soil to enable regrowth, and secondly, because the site is dominated by Blackberry and Tree of Heaven, both perennials, well established and of larger stature than the plants dominating the other approach landscapes.
Had these been cut later, when the other weedscapes were, the regrowth would be less. In this same area Field Bindweed obviously covers much of the open ground and it’s blooming heavily. The rest of the area exhibits sparse regrowth, appearing brown and ‘burnt’. This area is dominated by cool season grasses which are essentially dormant during our dry summers.
Other weeds that have had enough moisture like the Knapweed, the Mustard and Oyster Plant have pushed again reaching a lower height than they had in the spring and have flowered and seeded. Mowing in spring can, if appropriately timed, knock aggressive undesirables back ‘freeing’ light, moisture and nutrients for more desirable species that may be slower to ‘wake up’ giving them a competitive advantage. In this case though there is nothing to ‘release’ no desirable plants that will gain advantage and so be able to eventually, hopefully become better established. Nothing desirable is emerging on these sites.
Landscapes respond to whatever we do on them. If we plant them they will ‘decide’ what if any of our chosen plants they will support. If weeds blown in as seed are better suited to the conditions there they will establish. Over time, given these site conditions, and the other plants they share the space with, the will adapt or yield. Plants that compliment each other, whether we plant them or they volunteer, will grow in relationship to each other, competing/accommodating. But when we act in any plant community in a limiting way, mowing, cutting, spraying or ‘disturbing’ the site in some physical way the landscape will respond. Weedscapes like these are defined more by their vigor than their balance. The weeds are in a short lived relationship, niches have not been determined. It is extremely dynamic. Our actions can easily upset whatever tentative balance may be developing and will effectively be pushing it into a more volatile state as long as we do so. In such cases we are not maintaining the status quo, we are instead enabling an ongoing state of volatility that can only degrade further.
Plant communities develop over time with ‘stable’ conditions. Relationships are not developed through force. The only outcome for such a maintenance plan as is being practiced here is a landscape that degrades to the worst possible scenario. Over time, given our peripetetic culture and an economics dependent upon the regular movement of goods and materials, weeds will also be in constant movement and flux. Any site will be exposed to ever more variety and quantities of weed seeds. Landscapes/weedscapes that are routinely subject to disruptive management practices will be in a prime state for the invasion of any opportunistic species passing through. Transportation corridors like rivers, highways and railroads are ideally suited for the movement of weeds hitching rides on vehicles or moving down living vacuum that many of these corridors have become often growing and producing more seeds locally in the process. Conversely, native plants and all of those less aggressive, will fail to establish…unless they too possess a ‘weedy’ level of vigor. In general their requirements are too narrow their vigor insufficient to compete in a weed free-for-all. These landscapes are being managed for the worst possible outcome.
Each of these ‘weedscapes’ are at a different place in their decline, but they are all in decline. On the southeast approach is a section with a Scotch Broom ‘hedge’ heavy with ripened seed. Somebody cut down the Fennel again leaving a large dead zone closest to the railroad tracks. If their plan is to limit the amount of weed seed ‘infecting’ the soil seed bank, their thinking is on the right track, but they need to remember that what they leave on site can dominate. I’m not sure if trading Fennel for Scotch Broom is a good idea. Their efforts are also inconsistent and they are so far not providing a positive alternative. Something will grow here. ‘Dead zones’ are extremely unstable and subject to invasion by the first interloper to come along that is even marginally suited to the conditions on the site. Further east on the fence line is a young and vigorous English Walnut Tree directly under the power-lines from where a squirrel probably dropped the seed a few years ago.
We seem to have given up our ‘stewardship’ gene as a society as we’ve taken on more completely the rights of private property while excluding our obligations to community. We’ve incised into the face of the Earth itself these lines and they’ve become more real than the place that was once here. Straight fences, building walls, waste areas, cuts, fills, artificial grades, setbacks over laid onto a once vibrant living landscape with varied terrain, contours, rivers and streams, terraces, abrupt bluffs, impassable wetlands, forests and meadows, rocky tumbles that once told the story of this place, now subsumed…forgotten, sold off. Landscapes of human will vs. of nature and relationship. Landscapes of loss. Costs without benefit…only the promise of more costs. The City expands and we repeat its’ patterns, our mistakes. We grow angry at the costs. Most of us so divorced from the life around us, that we do not grieve, and throw tantrums, “We are tired of paying for nothing!” and having no idea of what we are throwing away, of the impossibility of ‘not’ taking responsibility. Push things too far out of balance and life will come back and exact its cost. It is not a choice and can only be deferred so long. Holgate Bypass is repeated all over the City. It is failing everywhere. Our refusal to take responsible action does not obviate our responsibility.