Buzzing Bushes

When you’re born into a place, stay and have deep roots there, then explore it for more than a half-century and write about it from many perspectives over nearly 40 years in the public sphere, you’re bound to gather an insightful local corps of loyal readers who understand your focus and chime in as spotters and sources from time to time with helpful tips.

Enter Bill Gokey of Conway by way of Leverett, which is where I met him 35 years ago when purchasing a Cracker-Jack black Labrador retriever gun dog named Sugarloaf Saro Jane, my dear Sara. As a versatile, all-around family pet and gun dog, she is probably my best, though I’ve owned many gun dogs of royal pedigree, tireless spirit and stamina that could match or top her in the field alone.

That, however, is neither here nor there for this narrative. What I’m here to discuss today is a problematic non-native invasive plant called Japanese Knotweed, which, go figure, has actually been dumped into my lap twice over the past two weeks — first by an old South Deerfield buddy who runs the South Deerfield Water Dept. and wanted the date of a Wendell knotweed lecture, then Gokey, who intermittently stays in touch with this and that from the pastoral surroundings of his Bear River Horse Farm.

More interesting than the subject itself, I suppose, is the way Gokey’s email dovetailed snugly into a timely personal inquiry I had already entangled myself in by the time it arrived in my inbox Sunday afternoon. Yup — Bingo! — it was right on the mark. Helpful, too. Because, you see, beginning Friday and continuing for a couple of days after that, I was puzzled by tall, dense flowering bushes on a stony, sweeping turn along the Green River bank. My interest had first been piqued by a loud chorus of buzzing emanating from two of these broadleaf bushes I split on my daily exit route from a refreshing, splashy, daily quarter-mile upriver walk with springer spaniels Lily and Chubby.

Initially, I was focused on identifying the bees. Were they Mason or bumble bees, wild pollinators I had written about weeks ago? Commercial honey bees? Wild honey bees? Or all of the above?

Well, after close, extended, two-day observation, I am satisfied they were all honey bees, every last one of them. Whether wild or domestic, well, your guess is as good as mine. Is there a way to tell? I know of none, but let me add that in the hot noontime sun Tuesday these same bees were in great numbers taking something from the sand on the river’s edge along the west bank. What they were after in damp, barren sand is beyond me. But they were all over the place, and not so much in the white blossoms that had gone by and were dropping seeds that attracted coveys of mourning doves my dogs had a blast flushing and briefly chasing.

On the other hand, I was confronted by the riddle of how in the world to identify these plants. Where to start? I was stumped until Gokey took care of the problem with his email that read like this:

“I know you love stream and river fishing, but the Japanese Knotweed will probably soon make access to the water next to impossible. It’s very easy to recognize the weed right now by its white flowers, and there’s lots of it following the South River along Shelburne Road in Conway. Along Route 116 toward Ashfield is the same.”

Hmmmm? Imagine that. Maybe that’s what I was encountering along the Green River. It definitely had the white flowers. I immediately went to my laptop, Googled Japanese Knotweed pictures and knew I had it pegged. Then the written material I scanned told me all I had to know, including the fact that a Pennsylvania farmer was marketing knotweed honey on his website. Apparently, judging from what I’ve seen with my own deteriorating brown eyes, someone near me is also selling such honey, whether that someone knows it or not. Then again, if the honey bees working those tiny white knotweed flower clusters are wild, maybe I could follow one back to a hollowed out tree or stonewall and find a good batch of salubrious wild honey. I guess it can be done, but you’re talking to the wrong guy because I have never seen such a wild honey hive, just read about them.

Anyway, the online info I uncovered says invasive Japanese Knotweed is native to Japan but now exists throughout North America and much of Europe. Once established, it’s very difficult to eradicate, thus, my friend the water department dude’s interest in the lecture he could not attend due to a Utah wedding. Apparently there are two varieties: Japanese and Giant Knotweed, and both have the same damaging effect in rivers and streams. The invasive plants multiply and eliminate other plant life while clogging small waterways and increasing bank erosion. Obviously, the plant can be spread by flooding rivers, not to mention birds like the mourning doves I saw that spread the seeds over a wide span. There have to be other seed-eaters that broadcast the seeds far and wide.

Tell me, where will it all stop? Last week I’m bemoaning the importation of pet jungle snakes that have taken residence in Southern swamps. Now Japanese Knotweed obscuring my daily rambles. Call me provincial, but I prefer native plants and animals any day of the week. And that goes for trout, too. You can have the imported browns and rainbows. For me, I’ll take squaretails any day of the week: that is Eastern Brook Trout, our indiginous trout, a proud member of the char family.

And while we’re at it, hold the knotweed honey. Make mine clover or wildflower, excluding the Far Eastern intruder.


Could there be a better example of the kind of weather bear hunters dread during the September season than what greeted them for the opening two days this week? The season opened on Tuesday in hot, muggy weather, which lingered through Wednesday. Who wants to hunt in 90-degree weather, and who wants to drag a burly bear out of the woods in sweltering heat to quickly prepare it for the freezer? Unless you have a walk-in cooler available, as few hunters do, there is no time to spare in butchering a kill, not with overnight temps in the high 60s. Then there’s the tick factor in the woods, where there promises to be no shortage on summer days. For bear hunters’ sake, I do hope the temperature drops to provide more favorable conditions, but it looks like there’s no relief in sight, with three straight muggy days in the mid-70s and nights in the upper 60s forecast.

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