See those gnarly roots? They are, as I learned over dinner last night, the reason why my dear friends Dennis and Deborah almost lost it this summer. Lost their minds, gave up their farm, ditched their marriage.
About two months ago, I helped Dennis, Deborah, and about 20 other hearty volunteers plant 5,500 seedlings (see my earlier posting and video.) Dennis and Deborah had been trying to restore a stretch of their small farm in Door County to prairie, or something at least closely approximating it. I have been visiting their property for a good six years now and observing the ups and downs of this effort. Burning, poisoning, seeding — nothing really worked. The indomitable non-native weeds kept asserting themselves, and re-asserting. They had put down roots long ago — literally — and would not leave easily.
The plan this time was to skip the seeds and go straight to the ‘lings. Hand-planting 5,500 of the suckers — little blue stem, false indigo, echinacea, Canada rye, and about 5 other species — was ambitious, but the volunteers were up to the task. It actually went amazingly well.
I returned from Operation: Prairie Restoration sore and somewhat anxious. Those little blue stems seemed so small and fragile, almost disappearing into their holes. Their beautifully veined root systems were delicate and determined, but how could they compete with roots like the ones above? We had left untold legions of those old roots in the fields, waiting to pounce.
I hadn’t seen Dennis and Deborah again until last night, when John and I joined them for dinner at Tutto. Based on a few e-mails since the planting, I knew that weeds had been an issue, but I didn’t know how much of an issue. It seems my friends were unknowingly using the wrong weed suppressant for a while and cultivating sawgrass (a weed) instead of Canada rye (a grass seedling). That was part of it. But I sat in horror as they described the worst of it. Picture, said Dennis, walking through weeds a foot high in search of seedlings inches high. Picture working two straight, hot, 8-hour days of weeding one weekend, and coming back the next weekend and seeing that all your work had made no difference. Picture day laborers dispatched over those 3 acres after being shown photographs of the things that were not weeds. And let’s not talk about the expense.
I don’t know at what point Deborah insisted they sell the whole darned place and let someone else deal with it, and what volume the discord reached. But I saw the look they exchanged with each other as they told the story, and decided not to ask.
But the ending is happy. The Great Oak Street Prairie Battle of 2010 seems to have been a win for the seedlings and for at least one marriage. The prairie is looking terrific now, they told us. They can’t wait for us to see it. Their relationship seems good as ever. And I can tell you firsthand that they can laugh about it now — maybe sardonically, but that qualifies.