The job description is deceptively simple: Cut back the wisteria. Yet it has been a project that has occupied many hours because I’m clipping and detangling, packing whatever will fit into my green waste bin each week. I’m doing this by hand rather than using a buzz saw. My way is less efficient, but more therapeutic. Years ago I planted wisteria because I watched a film called Enchanted April where four women went on vacation in a villa that was grown over with beautiful blooming wisteria plants. The plants did not cooperatively spread across the wall. They kept flopping over, and entwining, ending up more like clumpy bushes than graceful vines. Where they did climb, it was to take over and smother other plants, such as the nearby pine trees. Also they were fairly stubborn about blooming, only sending out a few blooms each spring. I loved the blooms, but over the years I’ve grown tired of rescuing my trees from the wisteria’s clutches.
I’m thinking about that long ago decision as I peel back the top layers of growing vines to reveal the dead and rotted mass of vines underneath. (Wisteria is even a bully to itself, killing off its own under layer of vines, leaving them to decay in the darkness underneath the green leaves.) I’m thinking about how sometimes things grow in unexpected ways, colonizing spaces they were never meant to occupy. I’m thinking about how far away we can end up from our original intention, and that sometimes we have to do the work to untangle and cut out the rot.
That last paragraph was entirely too vague for anyone who can’t see all the parallels I’m building in my head. As I clip and crunch and pull vines I think about some relationships where I did harm to another person. (Still vague, sorry. Not my story to tell on the internet.) Usually it wasn’t active or deliberate harm, but I had power that I did not recognize or use, and the result was harm. I never intended to hurt someone, just like I never intended for the wisteria to go this wild. But I was busy, and not paying attention, and suddenly my pine tree was half covered with a carpet of vines. I pull the vines down, but even with the vines gone there is a bare spot where pine branches died. Neglect on the part of the gardener resulted in the dead branches. I can’t undo that. But I can recognize that wisteria is a bully and I either need to commit to tending and controlling it regularly, or I need to remove it and plant something that will be a better member of my little garden community.
In a strange way, cutting through the wisteria tangle is a bit like time travel. I’ve found two frisbees from Howard’s frisbee golf set, some mostly decayed plastic bags, the remnants of the sand box which used to occupy that entire section of yard, and the rocks that we unearthed while planting trees and I tossed into a pile. The wall is becoming increasingly bare, ready for new planting. I’m remembering the choices we made long ago about all of those things. I don’t think I regret any of the choices, not even the wisteria. But I am different, the weather is different, my garden is different, so the choices about what to plant for the future are also different. I can do better.