Conversations at the End of the Road: The Green Monster

By Phil La Borie

Conversations at the End of the Road: The Green Monster

“What is that awful-looking stuff?” I asked my neighbor one bright spring morning. We were standing at the edge of our front yard, and I was pointing at a massive jungle of vines in the vacant lot next door. 

My neighbor is quite the gardener and a very knowledgeable botanist. The numerous plantings along her lot line, and around her mailbox, always display a wide variety of glorious flowers and are continually bursting with energetic new growth. On top of that, she knows the names (both in English and Latin) of just about every single plant that puts a shoot above the ground.

“Oh,” she said, “all that thorny, nasty, bushy business is Smilax. Sometimes it’s called Greenbrier, or Cat Brier or Prickly Ivy, but whatever name it goes by, it’s a terror!”

Tell me about it!

The insatiable green creature was everywhere. Thick, thorny vines complete with heart-shaped leaves and red berries had overwhelmed every bush and tree in sight.

In addition, vigorous vines were climbing over, under and through our side yard fence – their origins ominously sprouting from over-sized stumps and big, fat tree trunks. And, although a large family of multi-generational squirrels, a bunch of different birds, and a couple of feral cats thought the Smilax made for a wonderful playground and comfortable housing, it was one awful mess.

“Is there anything I can do about this invasion?” I inquired of my knowledgeable neighbor.

“Well,” she replied, “you could try cutting it back or even burning it, but be prepared for the consequences.”

“Consequences? What consequences?” I asked.

“Well,” she replied. “You’ll find that the more you cut down, the more you’re going to have to cut down.”

Ever the stubborn male, I said with considerable disbelief in my response, 

“Really?”

“Trust me,” she replied with quiet confidence.

Of course, as a more knowledgeable member of the opposite sex, I ignored her advice and thought; “I’ve got to get rid of this stuff before it breaks into the house one night and strangles everyone in their bed.”

So, the following morning, armed with my trusty pole cutter, newly sharpened garden shears and heavy-duty clippers, I attacked the mass of hopelessly tangled vines.

I worked for days and days to bring the beast under control.

Finally I finished the job, at least to my satisfaction; stepped back to admire my handiwork and said to myself, “Well, that took a whole lot of effort, but just look how it’s paid off! So much for it ever reappearing!”

Confident that I had accomplished my objective, I loaded the enormous heap of dead and dying vines into the pickup truck bed and took them to the Landfill. As I was cramming the huge pile into one of the grinding machines, a lady appeared, took one look at the pile of vines and suddenly turned pale.

Clearly alarmed, she backed away and breathlessly asked, “Is that poison ivy? I can’t get anywhere near it. I’m terribly allergic to the darned stuff.”

The Landfill attendant knowledgeably nodded in silent agreement. It was poison ivy for sure. I tried in vain to assure the terrified woman that it wasn’t the dreaded vine, but to no avail. I was clearly an environmental terrorist and a personal threat to her well-being. Where was my neighbor when I needed her?

But, in spite of having been branded public enemy number one, at least at the Landfill; I felt very proud of myself and my work. That is, I was supremely confident about what I’d achieved until a few weeks later when I took another look at all my efforts.

Uh, what efforts? The Smilax had reasserted itself with a vengeance. Just as my neighbor had calmly predicted, everywhere I had chopped away one vine, at least two new ones had appeared. Worst of all, the new growth was clearly thriving and vigorously setting out to reclaim any and all lost territory.

Well, I had been forewarned, and had I listened, should have known better. (What is it about men not paying heed to good advice from feminine sources?) But, since I am somewhat weak of mind, but strong of back, I attacked the green growth yet again.

After several more days of trying to bring the monster under control, my neighbor and I met again in the front yard.

“That Smilax certainly is a bother isn’t it?” she said.

“You got that right,” I responded.

“But there are some other things about Smilax that are quite positive,” she said.

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“It’s true,” she replied. “Did you know that there are nearly 350 different species, some of which are used to make Sarsaparilla and other kinds of root beer?”

“Really? You can drink this mess?”

“That’s not all,” she added. “In certain parts of the world, folks use the roots to make soups or stews. Apparently, you can also eat the raw young shoots. Supposedly, they taste something like asparagus.”

“I had no idea.” Privately I knew that whatever benefits Smilax might exhibit; I’d never try to eat it either cooked, raw or anything in between.

“You know,” she continued, “Smilax is a good example of the notion that some things are not always what they appear to be at first glance. If you take your time and look a little more closely at most situations, more often than not, you can find a whole lot of good mixed right in with the bad.”

“And,” she offered, “it’s just a suggestion mind you, but you might want to give up on trying to completely control all that growth. It’s nature’s way, you know. Why not just take a little off the top; give it a trim from time to time and let it be. Think live and let live. Could it hurt?”

“But, that’s just a suggestion, of course.”

And I had to admit, it was a really good one.

About this writer

  • Phil La Borie Phil La Borie is an award-winning writer/artist based in Garden City, South Carolina. His work has been published in AdWeek, The Kaiser-Permanente Journal, Westworld Magazine and online at smilesforall.com. Phil is the 2015 winner of the Alice Conger Patterson Award offered through the Emrys Foundation. He can be reached at plaborie@voxinc.net.

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