This Saturday afternoon, March 19, 1-4pm, the Princeton Battlefield Society will host its annual workday. Each year they do battle with the various invasive species on the property. In recent years, a big bamboo clone has expanded across a trail. Kudzu-like porcelainberry has been mobbing trees, large and small, bringing some of them down.
It's a worthy battle, and last year I made a suggestion about how to avoid having their hard work in the spring undone by the invasives' knack for rebounding through the summer. This past June, several of us returned to cut down the new bamboo shoots that had sprouted up since the spring workday. By timing our cutting so that the massive roots had invested heavily in new shoots without yet getting any return, we were able to deprive the root system of any replenishment. Tomorrow, they should see a much-weakened bamboo clone, and be able to divert some volunteers to some of the other infestations that are blocking trails elsewhere.
Other projects at the Princeton Battlefield that I've helped with are the native chestnuts planted by Bill Sachs, and an effort to save the dogwoods lining the north field from a host of aggressive vine species. Of course, it's not exactly a walk in the park to do battle with the vines, but the work is made rewarding by the thought of the people who took the time to plant them decades ago, the beauty they have to offer, and the berries the migratory birds won't find if the dogwoods have no sunlight to power their production.
It's notable that all of these motivations are driven by imagination: the people long gone, flowers yet to bloom and berries yet to be borne. It's an imagination honed by long experience and observation (helped by some digging to find the newspaper article that told of the bicentenial planting of dogwoods). The past and the future inform our sense of place. The present, with its dull winter mix of grays and browns, is deceiving. Taken at face value, the present offers little to inspire action. In that sense, a well-tempered imagination is as important for seeing reality as our eyes. It allows us to see the past and the future embedded in the present, and offers us reason to act.