Removing Non-Native Invasive Plants In Hot Springs With Tamia Dame and Bob Gale

Removing Non-Native Invasive Plants In Hot Springs With Tamia Dame and Bob Gale

Removing Non-Native Invasive Plants In Hot Springs With Tamia Dame and Bob Gale

Last December, I headed out with MountainTrue’s Ecologist and Public Lands Director, Bob Gale, to treat non-native invasive plants with a few volunteers at an Appalachian Trail (AT) trailhead in Hot Springs, NC. This trailhead leads hikers straight to the parking lot for Laughing Heart Lodge, which is just one of the many hostels along the trail that provides accommodations to thru-hikers. The small town of Hot Springs is a hub for AT thru-hikers because of its position along the AT, its charming accommodations and its natural beauty.

Trailheads are often vulnerable to the spread of non-native invasive plants due to their proximity to roadways, since tires and shoes can carry the seeds of invasive plants and deposit them onto the ground around them. Upon meeting around ten in the morning at the trailhead, we were greeted by a plethora of multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), kudzu (Pueraria montana), oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and a newly appearing vine here, Akebia quinata, also known as five-leaf akebia or chocolate vine. Only a short distance up the trail ahead, invasive plants were sparse – making this a great opportunity to prevent them from spreading further.

After a brief training in cut-and-paint herbicide use, non-native invasive plant identification and safety, the group broke up to tackle the dense foliage from each corner of the parking lot. Cut-stump herbicide treatment is ideal for woody stem plants such as multiflora rose and Chinese privet, and easy to figure out for first-time volunteers. Here’s how it works: Once plants have been cut to the base of the stem, take a small bottle with a sponge tip and a needle that protrudes with pressure and presses onto the cut stump, sending the herbicide down into the roots. The herbicide contains a blue dye as an indicator for safety or spill purposes, which also makes it easier to tell the difference between treated and untreated plants in areas dense with invasives.

The weather was cool and sunny; great weather for battling a thorny wilderness of multiflora rose in long sleeves under little tree canopy. This exotic invasive perennial shrub is particularly harmful because of its natural lack of predators, incredible shade tolerance and high seed production, to name a few factors. When we arrived, the southeastern corner of the parking lot had several mature multiflora rose plants which had effectively overtaken the native plant life beneath them.

Bob and Tamia worked on this corner until it was nearly rid of invasives and visibly much healthier, promoting an environment in which native plant life can thrive as hikers pass through. Positioned on the north and northwestern corners of the lot, volunteers Scott and Kayla cut through thickets of multiflora, privet, oriental bittersweet and kudzu. Diligently cutting and painting through the morning and afternoon, these two were able to significantly improve the appearance of this side of the parking lot and make great progress on this non-native invasive removal project.

While the situation here is not yet perfect, we were able to put an impressive dent in the sheer volume of non-native invasive plants that stood when we arrived. We look forward to continuing our invasive treatment work on the Hot Springs AT trailhead as the weather warms, and thank Scott and Kayla for their hard work with us!

A Black Naturalists Journal

A Black Naturalists Journal

A Black Naturalists Journal

The serenity of nature is like the hug from a friend we all desperately need. The glow and warmth it leaves me with brings me in touch with this land, our planet, not as we have made it, but as it is.

September 23, 2020. Justice was outright denied for the young, lively, human being Breonna Taylor. September 23, 1955. Justice was spit on in the case of poor, young Emmett Till. It is the morning after the ruling in Breonna’s case, I’m sipping coffee, paying mind to how I really feel.

(For context, I’ve recognized my tendency to have physical reactions to the cuts of trauma. It’s not uncommon in BIPOC, to experience chronic pain, exhaustion, fatigue, all of which being any combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. My particular flavor is chronic pain (CP) in my cervical spine, with a heavy dash of mental exhaustion. Watching bodies pile up due to violence and sickness, an uncoincidentally high amount of black bodies, can do its damage.)

It’s raining, forcing me to reschedule a field day. On one hand I don’t mind, as this CP flare up probably means I need to rest. On the other hand, I find myself looking at the dozens of photos I’ve taken over the last weeks. Photos of deep forest, leaves, flowers, mushrooms, caterpillars, rivers, and of course mountain views. A video of a little red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) shimmying itself under leaf litter, trying to hide itself from danger. I want to be outside, where the birds tune out the noise of society, even if only for a while.

Nature therapy, for me, has become a means for coping with the daily trauma we have collectively been witnessing, and disproportionately been experiencing. I have a kind of survivor’s guilt for having that opportunity (let alone for that opportunity to be my work), as well as the opportunity to graduate from college, live in my own apartment, and have support systems, rather than being obligated to support. Injustice takes many forms.

Yet no amount of love for nature will convince me to explore the outdoors alone, not as a young woman of color in western North Carolina. Especially within days of a bizarre, racially intimidating vandalism of the entrance sign to Foothills Parkway. In fact, when I’m hiking I practically always have the company of a white man. In a way that makes me simultaneously feel shame, it makes me feel safe.

But I daydream often. I have a deep love for folk rock, songs that give me ambedo (a ‘feeling you can’t explain,’ n. A kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details- raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee- briefly soaking in the experience of being alive, an act that is done purely for its own sake). There are many ways to connect with nature.

Visions of life illuminated by the tranquility of my environment, accompanied by the soundtrack of that movie I play in my head. In that movie, I go for long drives and get lost in the woods by myself, and I always come home. There are many ways to connect with nature, to pay respect to the greater, the smaller, to the strange fruit we bury like seeds of a bountiful forest.

The world, not as we have made it, but as it is.

The Soundtrack: The Bottom of It / Fruit Bats; Dark Days / Local Natives; Willy’s Song / Rayland Baxter; Louise / Mipso.

Tamia Dame is MountainTrue’s AmericaCorps Forest Keeper Coordinator. She is a graduate of UNC Asheville and a native to the Appalachian foothills of Lenoir, NC, where she spent much of her childhood exploring the outdoors and longing to live in the mountains. 

On Division, Communicating the “Inflammatory”

On Division, Communicating the “Inflammatory”

On Division, Communicating the “Inflammatory”

A hot word: “Divisive.” Here in the United States, we talk a lot about how divided we are. But how do we become divided? Before our divisions are philosophical, they are linguistic. Ask any Facebook user what it’s like to use that platform to engage with others on any important issue or hot topic, and their head just might explode. We all see what’s happening around us objectively: we are in a pandemic, nationwide protests happen almost daily, it is an election year, first Australia was engulfed in flames, then the Western US coast. We are living through the same objective events, and most of us are likely seeking similar outcomes: we want health for ourselves and our loved ones, we want as little loss of life as possible by the end of this pandemic, we want our nation to serve justice, we want our planet to be habitable for future generations. Above all, we keep hearing how important for Americans to once again be united as a people, how we’re all so tired of the division. While we all originate from different backgrounds, cultures, family structures, and we have lived different lives, had different experiences, and possess different goals, I like to think that we’re not as different as we think we are.

When it comes to planning our future as a collective nation, it seems as if all of our similarities might have never even existed. We tend to get direly lost in translation, emotionally driven to react to whatever triggers the perception of threat or judgment. We have a terminal addiction to placing our differences ahead of our similarities. In today’s social media age, it seems to be a victimless infraction. We have the right to free speech, the right to our own opinion, and the right to agree or disagree with our government and with one another. This is true. The more I talk with folks, the more I realize that we exist in the same physical universe but live in vastly different worlds. We fundamentally, truly, do not understand each other.

American passion, a historically critical quality of the trailblazers that have brought us from history to here, is our own weakness. The diverse nature of American society has long been prohibited from simultaneously taking up space, until now. Legal gay marriage in the US is younger than Netflix. My 2011 Toyota Camry has existed for longer than Black Lives Matter, the organization. The status quo is being challenged, as it has been before us, cloaked in a different disguise with each passing generation. Have we forgotten that we are history in the making?

“Connect before you correct,” I hear the voice of Ms. Roberta Wall carefully advise. This is one of the basic principles of nonviolent communication (NVC), as I’ve learned it. It means to establish the space to both recognize and be heard, before addressing the issue at hand. It is a practice of empathy, driven by a desire for mutual understanding. I’ve come to realize that this applies to both interpersonal and intrapersonal conflict. When we become fired up at controversial speech, at its core, it’s often because we’re feeling a need be unmet, threatened, or disrespected. We humans are emotional animals. We just care so much! I challenge you, dear reader, to remember that next time you’re in this situation. We have no right to shame ourselves for our passion, but passion, too, is a skill, and developing any skill takes practice.

Step one: hear/read/see controversial speech, action, or decision. Step two: get fired up, think of all the ways the other party is SO wrong. Step three: thank yourself, your brain, for reminding you that you’re not a bad person for caring. Step four: remember that we exist in the same universe, but different worlds. Step five: realize that the other party cares too, in ways we may not be able to understand. Step six: identify any shared needs (safety, health, to be heard). Step seven: choose how to proceed.

These steps, for me, help cool the flames of what I find inflammatory.

Working on these skills restores our power and ability to communicate effectively. I seek to take back the power of my passion, and not let it be threatened by that which and those who I simply don’t understand. My threshold for reactivity has risen, and I spend more of my passion on making a difference. I’ve been able to reach across the aisle, while standing firm in my personal morals and beliefs.

Dear reader, if you identify as an ally of the underrepresented, I challenge you to identify your own reactivity threshold. If you wince at notions of defunding law enforcement, or support black lives matter but don’t appreciate dialogue on white supremacy, if you feel like discourse on social issues has a tendency to just go too far, and you don’t understand, but you believe in unity; I share this as an act of empathy. It is our right to stand true to ourselves, and it is also our right to soften our edges just enough to let our perspectives broaden. When issues drive our emotions and our emotions drive our opinions, we don’t come to understanding by explanation alone, we have to want to understand.

When we give our power of reactivity away, when we expect that others adapt their adopted language to appease those who otherwise would withdraw their support, we continue to perpetuate systemic oppression. By this form of censorship, we force those who have been neglected justice to do more emotional work as they actively fight for equity.

Before our divisions are philosophical, they are linguistic.

Same universe, different worlds.

Passion is a natural reaction to tragedy, yet it takes many forms. We don’t have to be lost in translation. Let’s talk better.

Tamia Dame is MountainTrue’s AmericaCorps Forest Keeper Coordinator. She is a graduate of UNC Asheville and a native to the Appalachian foothills of Lenoir, NC, where she spent much of her childhood exploring the outdoors and longing to live in the mountains.