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The old Tobacco Road house next door at the end of Fire Road finally sold and we have a new neighbor named Linda. The previous tenants of the old green house had not wasted a great deal of time or effort maintaining the place and it showed.
Linda has her work cut out for her and has been hauling tons of trash off to the dump and effecting repairs to the house that had been postponed the last thirty years. The Tobacco Road house was built around World War I. It had hand hewn sills that had been salvaged from something else. They were buggy and had to be replaced with treated beams. Eventually the place became livable and Linda moved in and started doing finish woodwork. Her attention shifted to the forest of old growth scotch broom that had invaded her horse pasture. If you don't know what scotch broom is, lucky you!
Broom is a non-native evergreen plant that some fool deliberately imported and now it takes over any open field with direct sun light. It will grow at least ten feet high and can have a clump stump up to six inches in diameter. It has a woody stem and no natural enemies. Its heavy seeds remain viable for half a century. It resprouts from its cut stumps. Its only known virtue is that it affixes nitrogen to the soil. It grows shoulder to shoulder and shades out everything except blackberries which vine up the broom into the sun.
The broom at the end of Fire Road arrived on the old rail road grade that
passes through our lots from the Dogpatch logging camp a mile downstream to Cottage Grove, 15 miles away. Scotch broom thrives in gravel for some reason and so it gets its seeds transported in crushed rock like that used in the RR grade. The stuff had grown in this field undisturbed for three decades. One day I hopped the fence with my old firewood saw and cut out a tank of gas on the broom, making the stumps just as low as I could. Linda heard the noise and came out and started piling the cut broom. This became an after work ritual and I started using Linda's little Poulen saw made in Louisiana. I wore this out fairly quick so she bought a brand new little Husqvarna saw that turned out to be just the perfect size for brooming.
Soon we had a dozen piles in the field. Linda's two horses started eating
the bark off of the larger stems protruding from the stacks. They won't
touch the stuff when its on the stump. One overcast windy afternoon, I
broke out some used motor oil and we started lighting piles. It was cool
and damp enough so that there was little danger of fire getting away but the neat, ten foot high stacks hadn't been rained on so they lit quickly and consumed the broom.
After a few day's cutting we discovered an ancient rotary rake that was
fifty meters from my shop on the other side of the fence. I fell the
old-growth broom that had grown up through and around it. I had never seen it before. We decided to tow it to the boneyard of other agricultural relics by the barn. I fetched the little Bronco II and drove through the new gate on the RR bed. After hitching the rake to the Bronco with a chain. I put the car in 4WD (four wheel drive) and rolled away. One of the big steel wheels on the implement was connected to a transmission that turned the rake itself. The transmission was frozen and the drive wheel skidded along on the ground. Linda's two hayburners followed along to see what we were doing.
After gating through the electric fence, It clattered along on the pavement of Fire Road until suddenly, the transmission freed up and the rotary rake started turning just like it was supposed to. (Linda may be able to sell her collection of agricultural antiquities over e-bay.) We have now burned 21 piles of cut broom and the field is starting to look like a real field. Linda carped at the timber company that owns the old right of way and its representative agreed to cut the broom in the R-o-W. The only real way to kill broom is with chemical warfare. But preferring a non-toxic attack, Linda plans to keep her field mowed regularly and hopefully this will severely retard the stuff. We burned last weekend and it was wet and the piles didn't light very well at all. Eventually I learned to use a scoop shovel and move half a dozen scoops of hot coals from an established fire to a fresh pile. The hot material starts a new blaze without old motor oil. Broom burns down to a fine ash that holds its heat overnight and finally blows away. There are bare spots every fifty feet in the pasture where the red clay shows through the black.
I have been cutting Linda's broom away from Maxwell House and will soon be where White Creek crosses the old right-of-way. Ben the Bengal cat liked to lurk in the broom jungle across the fence and now has to go further afield to find "pocket leopard" habitat.
There is plenty of bear sign in the broom back along the Siuslaw River. There are lots of game trails that wind through the stuff that the deer use to get to Linda's old fruit trees. Soon the deer and bear will have to move in the open.
When cutting broom, you discover that there is "grain" in the broom patch. The trick is to find which way the stuff falls easily and then cut a swath laying the broom down the way you came. After Linda stacks the cut broom, I can approach the harder to fall areas and cut from one side or another until it's all down. Sometimes the blackberries hold it together and I cut the horrible vines with the saw and we pitchfork them onto the fire.
Geeno, our neighbor across Fire Road, who lives in the overgrown
Christmas tree patch, has an acre or two of five year-old broom. He dutifully cuts it down at ground level with a hand saw and piles and burns the stuff too. The whole neighborhood needs to get together and exterminate all broom in the hood with extreme prejudice.
The only sure fire non-chemical way to terminate scotch broom is to cut it back and plant trees throughout the affected area. Broom needs direct sunlight and as soon as the plantation of trees has achieved crown
interlock, the broom is doomed. Linda will be battling the stuff until the
end of time across the fence in her horse pasture.
There is really no such thing as "your" broom or "my" broom around here. It does not recognize fences. When its seed pods ripen in July and August, they pop open in such a way that they actually propel BB sized seeds 20 feet or so. Bird's transport the seeds internally and so you find broom starting up in fence lines. The stuff is the plant kingdom's version of the cockroach.
Whoever imported the stuff into Western Oregon should be shot. In some places it is used as matrix for floral arrangements. If we could only convince the Drug Enforcement Agency that broom was a drug, we could get free eradication service. I have heard that smoking the flowers or brewing them into tea produces hallucinations. We need to get scotch broom on the controlled substance list.
Copyright 2003 by Norm Maxwell
Visit Norm's other writings at West By Northwest.org:
Norm's Notebook: A Last Look from the Big Rabbit
Norm's Notebook: From Forest to McMansion, How It Could Happen Here
Norm's Notebook: A Few Acres, a Few Chickens–Who Is Living on the Land Now
Remembering the 30 Mile Fire
Old Men and Fire
The Fire of South Canyon: Remembering Storm King
Wee-wee for BB
Norm's Notebook: The Story of the Spruce Tree, and Mosby Creek, a New Land Use Lot Adjustment
Norm's Notebook: Dead Cars and the Six Million Dollar Manx
(Editor's note–Norm's "Dead Cars" story inspired a feature story in the Register Guard, "Heaps of trouble in the woods.")
Mentoring Military Style
Three Dollar Hammer
Song of the Open Road
Remember Fire Road
Home, Home on Fire Road
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