The forest was filled with life, my footsteps could barely be heard beneath the cacophony of birds singing and squirrels rustling. The trees were swaying with the push of the wind upon them, sending a scattering of sunshine beneath the canopy. The scent of the musty, fungi laden, leafy woods bottom mixed with the heady aroma of locust blooms. It made me swoon with the nostalgia of a hundred similar forays into the wild. As I topped the hill and peered down into the “holler” below me I was momentarily overcome with anger, quickly followed by irritation, at the apparent destruction interrupting my wild revelry…. Eight maybe ten people folded in half, with heads hanging close to the ground, ripping and tearing at what seemed to me an innocent green blanket dotted with bright yellow flowers. As i made my way down into the cradle of trees and rock outcroppings the bent humans straightened to observe the interruption to their task at hand - eradicating the alien invading, vicious, mustard plant.
Their eyes held a look of tired frenzy, mixed with determination to rid the woods of this little fiend. Upon further inquiry I found that this place was home to an endangered plant- one that was rare for this area. The mustard was encroaching on this plants home and they were trying to save it. There was also talk of a fungus attacking trees in the area, could it also be connected to the invasion? This was war to them, they had to save this part of the forest from the wild mustard. I wanted to engage them, tell them I understood their desire to help, but sometimes certain plants happen along when the conditions are right and there is need. Something changed in these woods to allow this plant in and maybe they could investigate what that change might be. This plant could be an indicator of the presence of worse things invading, hidden from a blind eye. In the midst of a battle we sometimes get lost in the fight, our focus so narrow our fight so true- that the direction of our will is difficult to alter. It was this glazed look of determination and the deadly certain tone in the unified voice of the forest soldiers that pushed me to move on without engagement.
This fictional interlude in my mind happened as a result of a conversation based on similar real events. It made me ponder the idea of invasive plants, and how they might not be one function plants bent on ecological destruction. How common it is for us to declare war with what is different without giving a chance for the explanation of why different could be, and is valuable? In little ways don't we do this every day? Place a negative judgement on something different from our everyday, just because it is different? Lately I think the natural world has begun to speak through those of us with the patience to observe, investigate, and understand the complexity that is mother nature.
The language of this communication has come in the tireless work of people like Timothy Lee Scott. In his book Invasive Plant Medicine, he provided the validation that the mustard plant has a vital function in the ecology of forests. He points out that Indian Mustard "has been found in laboratory and field studies to have the potential to remediate heavy metals like nickel, zinc, cadmium, chromium and mercury in toxic soils." (I.P.M. pg. 312) The Garlic mustard, a dynamic accumulator, was found to leave soil "consistently and significantly higher in N, P, Ca, and Mg availability… the soil nutrients that present conditions for optimal plant growth." It was also mentioned that "garlic mustard was found not to release volatile compounds from the roots to affect other plants"( I.P.M. pg. 214) often a big argument for its large-scale removal.
Now this doesn’t even touch on the fact that mustards are edible and medicinal as well. Its a hot plant and so is good for congested type problems. It is an anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-hyperglycemic, and can be used as a food preservative, the seed protecting against ecoli! The leaves and flowers can be used in salads, the seed dried and ground just like mustard you find in the store. This is just the "wild" variety, garlic mustard has even more beneficial attributes. It’s heart shaped leaves and white flowers combine benefits of garlic and mustard together.
All of this took me back to the permaculture principle that in every problem lies the solution. A principle that requires a change in perspective, a shift so slight that its nearly imperceptible, and when it happens…
The clouds part and sunbeams fall from the sky, like rain to the parched earth; and the answers? They come to you like they had always been there.
It doesn’t always happen at once, for me it has taken weeks of asking myself “Where in this problem is the solution?” before the answer came to me. Each time I did this the answer was obvious, only emotion and ego had hidden it from view. When you choose to attempt this shift you perceive this world differently. You feel differently in response to stimuli, and then respond differently. Perspective is a powerful thing and can be the difference between war and peaceful coexistence. We all need this reminder, it gives us the power to change our world- sometimes with just some silent observation.
Born in New Hampshire and raised in Maine, Eva's passion for living self sustainably began with Helen and Scott Nearing. Both were homesteaders who carved their lives from the land. Eva now lives in Eastern West Virginia, with her husband Dain and daughter Shayna, carving out her own life.