I normally don’t just come right out and say what I think. My reactions, at this age, are normally cool and collected and calculated. I can be as tactful as the next guy. But, in this case, being downright blunt is just the beginning of how I feel about Kudzu.
Most of us know that Kudzu came into this country from Japan. I often wondered if it was some kind of pay-back for us bombing Tokyo, which was pay-back for Pearl Harbor. But Kudzu actually predates all the war stories.
The first sighting in this country was at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. Some really nice guys from Japan brought it over to promote its ornamental qualities and its potential use as a forage crop for livestock. Legend has it that they brought it into the exhibit hall inside a Trojan Horse.
If the folks up north had been smart, they would have bombed the heck out of the exhibit hall right then and there. Instead, the nice guys from Japan took their samples back home and nothing much was heard of Kudzu again for another 50 years.
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corp was having meetings designed to figure out a plan to help the farmers in the south control excessive erosion. The Boll Weevil had devastated cotton crops all across the south. Fields dried up. Heavy rains had pushed precious topsoil out of the fields and into the river basins of the Flint, the Oconee and the Ocmulgee. Our soils were headed to the coast.
I can only imagine how the discussion went. Some guy on the committee says, “I had me a professor back in Agronomy 101 at UGA who talked about this vine from Japan that is supposed to grow about a foot a day. That there would cover some ground and slow down this erosion.”
An idea was born. But, alas, lack of experience is the spawn of ignorance.
So, over the next 10 years about 50,000 acres of eroded soils in Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee were planted with the vine from Hades. We got blindsided by the government man who came to town saying, “I am here to help you.”
One popular suggestion was to plant it on an arbor in your backyard. “It’ll offer some really nice shade, plus it has a wonderful aromatic flower in the summer.” What they didn’t tell us is that Kudzu would not only cover the arbor, but it would eat your house while you’re sleeping.
You wake up one morning. The sun’s up, but it looks dark out your window. “Honey, is there an eclipse this morning?” You walk out on the back porch and a Kudzu vine grabs you by the ankle and pulls you into the belly of the beast.
They say that pigs will destroy Kudzu. What they don’t tell you is that you would need approximately 8,463 pigs per acre to keep up with the growth rate. Small herds of pigs, I’m sure, have been lost and never seen again. Faint squeals and grunts were heard for the fist day or so, but then nothing. The Kudzu patch belched. A few vines twitched. All went silent. The sun came up and the patch consumed another 5 acres the next day.
When we were kids, we used to ride along the highway and play “What do you see in the Kudzu?” from the back seat. This was never a proper game. I’m not sure it really had a name. It was kind of like laying on your back and shouting out the shapes you see in the clouds. A Kudzu covered Pine might look like an Elephant with a long trunk. Telephone poles and wires might remind you of a T-Rex. You see an old barn crumbling in the grasp of Kudzu tentacles, and you say to your sister, “Hey, that looks like a beached whale.”
Somehow, Kudzu escaped from the cotton fields and found it’s haven along the southern roadside right-of-ways. You can hardly drive along any major interstate or county backroad and not see acres of Kudzu madness. I have contended for a long time that the state and county mowing crews are indirectly responsible for the on-going spread of this evil vine. Seed gets shaken out onto the deck of the mowers. Vines get tangled up in the hitch and undercarriage. And everywhere they ride those tractors, they are like little Johnny Kudzu Seed Dispensers, spreading the joy from town to town.
At the end of last summer, I noticed one Kudzu vine growing in the ditch out at the end of my driveway. I knew how it got there. There’s a big patch down at the end of our road where it meets the state highway. The county road crews were out spreading the wealth.
I’ve watched this vine for over a year now. Nightmares have made me sit straight up at 3AM. In my dream I’m coming home from work, and when I try to make the turn into my driveway, I can’t get in. There was no Kudzu when I left that morning, but now massive vines have buried my entrance. The mailbox is gone. A tricycle is laying in the road. My neighbor’s grandchild is missing. The vine smiles at me and I wake up in a cold sweat.
Two weeks ago, I noticed that there’s maybe a dozen vines now. Some of them are creeping up into the big tree next to the creek. I knew I had to act soon or run the risk of my dream coming to life.
So, I go down to the end of my drive and start cutting vines near the ground. I know I can at least kill whatever has reared it head up in the air. I then take my backpack sprayer and go to work on the rest. My neighbor comes down the drive.
“What you doing neighbor?” He can see the crazed look in my eyes.
“I’m killing Kudzu.”
He’s not convinced. “Are you sure? I sprayed that last year and I thought it was gonna take my legs off before I could get back in my truck.”
“I’m using the good stuff.” I have an arsenal of herbicides at my disposal. Agricultural grade stuff. Not this watered down crapola you get from the box store with 2% active ingredient and 98% water. “I’ll stay after it and spray again if I need to.”
He finds my determination humorous. “Well, good luck. Don’t stay in there too long. I wouldn’t want to have to send out a search party to find your body.”
“Thanks for the warning.” We both chuckle at the evil that lurks.
I noticed yesterday that the leaves I sprayed have curled into a brown dust. “Take that!” I thought as I walked to the mailbox. I am a Kudzu crusader. There will be no Kudzu victory on my watch. Not on my driveway.
As I stepped up into my truck, I thought I heard a smirk in the wind. I scanned the ditch, and then I saw it. I missed a couple of vines further down.
I squinted my best Captain Kudzu look. I’ll be back tonight. This is war.