Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On goldenrod

Marilyn Wellons reports:

Today's Boston Globe has a small but beautiful photo of Maine's Mt. Desert Island, with a fine spray of goldenrod in the foreground (p. E1, lower left corner).

Goldenrod is one of summer's final gifts. True to its billing, it's golden, with clusters of small yellow flowers the bees love, and its long, branching stalks are little rods.

True to the vision of the Charles River parkland's original designers, goldenrod grows along this urban estuary to combine, like goldenrod at Acadia National Park, with other plants to give us a bit of rural beauty in early September.

Or at least it does until the DCR's volunteers cut it down. They're busy at this annual task right now, just when wild bees are gathering honey for the winter, just when the DCR's ostensible constituency, the general public, is out for the last fine weather and the pleasure of these flowers.

The DCR's agent, the Charles River Conservancy's "volunteer coordinator," would have me believe I'm the only person who looks forward to seeing goldenrod and grieves when he and his crews deprive us of its beauty every fall.

Last year, as his "volunteers" clear-cut everything along the lagoon behind the Publick Theatre in Boston, he initially denied to me that there was any goldenrod there, or that he had given permission for the crew to cut it down. Goldenrod is, in the DCR's own terms, a North American "native," hence not "invasive," hence not in the Master Plan to be eradicated from the land. Nor does it block any views of the Charles River or the lagoon.

When I picked up the fallen stalks, he admitted he had, when the "volunteers" with the loppers asked if it was ok to destroy them, told them it was, although the target plant was an oriental bittersweet. He then argued to me that he had a great job, educating children about the environment.

This year our goldenrod conversation was a different story. Standing in the same place as last year, looking at the stands of budding goldenrod and other fall flowers waiting to be felled by his imminent clear-cutting, the same person challenged me: "What is it with you and goldenrod? No one else objects to cutting it down. There's nothing wrong with cutting it down."

Now goldenrod is a well-known and valued member of cultivated fall gardens and wilder places in New England. I suspect that the previous year's "volunteers" asked if they should cut it down because they knew that. I have no way of knowing if the "volunteer coordinator" spoke the truth and I'm the only person who's ever objected to him or the DCR or CRC about cutting it down. Nevertheless, I cannot believe I am the only person who objects to the mindless destruction of this and the other fall flowers.

And, if there's nothing wrong with cutting down the goldenrod, why had he bothered to lie to me about it last year, then admit it was true? So when I began to recall this, he and Richard Corsi, the DCR official at his side, both announced that the topic was a waste of time and stalked off. "And you can put that in your blog," said Corsi with some emphasis.

Unlike a year ago, when the "volunteer coordinator" first denied, then acknowledged what he'd done, this year he was defiant. I believe the change is important, since his defiance followed immediately upon another denial. He had said his crews last year hadn't cut plants on the far of the lagoon. If they didn't cut the plants on the far side, I said, cutting them here on the near side has itself exposed the Publick Theatre's portable toilet, dumpster, and old scenery to passersby. In my opinion this is not a service to urban people out for rural views.

Richard Corsi repeated that the DCR had nothing to do with clearing the far side, and that in fact he thought the view of the Public Theatre's backside revealed by the DCR's "vegetation management" was pleasing.

Again, the "volunteer coordinator's" statements may be true. However, I was standing in the same place, discussing the same project with him, the very same person who had acknowledged lying to me about the cutting a year ago. He was standing with a public official who has repeatedly misrepresented the DCR's role in illegal "vegetation management" to the Boston Conservation Commission. Consequently I have no more reason to take his statements at face value than I do the DCR official's. And I wonder if the young man's association with the DCR official has emboldened him to defiance, which in time may settle into the more comfortable misrepresentations his senior exhibits.

This year's goldenrod conversation took place on the Charles during a site visit by the Chair and Executive Secretary of the Boston Conservation Commission to consider the DCR's "vegetation management" policies and serious erosion along the shore, especially in front of Harvard Business School. For other aspects of this visit, please see the blog posting, "DCR 'vegetation management' and the Boston ConCom."