GENE LOGSDON: Nature’s Rush To Brush


The Contrary Farmer

There’s a stealthy invasion creeping up on us from all directions, but if you don’t live in an environment like mine, you may not be aware of it. It is called brush but not the kind you use to rearrange your hair.  Brush is thicket composed of bristly weeds, thorny bushes, and bloodthirsty or poisonous vines speeding along  toward us at about two inches per hour. Within the armies of brush are poison ivy, blackberry canes, wild grapes, multiflora rose brambles, autumn olive and saplings of honey locust, bamboo, mulberry, and, well, any tree fighting its way up through the jungle of shorter plants. If brush can’t get you any other way, it dries up, sets itself on fire, and attempts to toast whole states to a crisp. We don’t have to worry about that in Ohio. We just have to make sure little children do not wander too close to the thickets lest a vine of multiflora snake out and snatch the poor tyke into the underbrush, never to be seen again.

You can observe the green monster’s advance easily enough by driving down any highway where rainfall amounts to 35 inches or more a year. The median, ditches, fence boundaries, even the border evergreen trees planted with so much naive innocence, are now festooned with brush. Every year the brush tries to edge closer to the pavement. There is no telling how many millions of dollars and man hours have been spent to stop the monster. The onslaught is especially noticeable where highways pass through suburban areas or where the median strip or ditch traverses landscape that is difficult or impossible to mow. Jungle develops. Vacant areas between housing or shopping centers not particularly under the jurisdiction of anyone with a lawnmower grow so thickly even deer can’t get through it. In some places the brush has already begun to swallow up those permanent sound barrier walls. Add to all this jungle the millions of acres you can’t see from the road where former farm land has been abandoned because it is too unhandy to be profitable for big machine farming. No wonder coyotes are a problem in New York City now.

If you keep up extensive fences between open fields you appreciate the awesome mightiness of brush. Let it go just one summer and it is impossible to conquer except with  brush-killing chemicals because the fence prevents you from mowing it off. If you have a lot of fencerow, you simply cannot clip and hack it all back by hand every year. Your dripping blood, sweat, and tears are not enough, even at 8 hours a day. You will eventually sneak into the nearest superstore and buy Monsanto’s most expensive, hoping that none of your organic neighbors see you.

Actually there is a remedy— grazing animals in large numbers.  The reason that sheep became so popular here in Ohio (our school sports nickname is Rams) was because when the pioneer farmer cleared forest land before bulldozers, the brush counterattacked with awesome might before the stumps could be cleared away.  Flocks of sheep did the job of eating the new growth and you could sell the wool every year. Bulldozers do not grow wool.

I can remember exactly when farmers here in my home grounds decided they could make a living growing grain only and got rid of all their grazing animals. Immediately, the fencerows started growing up in brush. If you want to experience real misery, go out with a scythe on a hot August day and attempt to cut back the fence line brush and weeds on the edges of tall corn fields, like I had to do as a boy. Oh, yes, the wildlife scientists in their air-conditioned offices spoke glowingly of how beneficial the brushy fence lines were. Just like the hedgerows of Europe. Yes and it is a matter of historical record that the hedgerows of France stopped American tanks in their tracks.

Yes, all this is very good for wildlife. Yes, this is how nature returns the land eventually to forest. But a battle line has to be drawn somewhere. Pray that there is never a shortage of brush cutters and bush hogs.  And if you wonder why sales of Roundup are booming, it is because brush is on the move. Archeologists are still finding the ruins of magnificent cities under the jungle cover of South America. It took a very advanced human culture to build those cities, but in the end, brush won.


“Brush” deserves to win. It’s tough, it passes on its toughness, it doesn’t require anybody for anything. It laughs at drought, survives fire, feeds much, makes do. GO BRUSH! af

A couple of momentous questions: When you write “go out with a scyth..”, exactly what tool do you have in mind? I always thought a scythe was that long handled, crescent-bladed weapon swung by the Grim Reaper. But I’ve heard the name applied to the short handled tool with the corregated blade on a D-shaped mount, more usually called a “swingin’ blade” around here. Also, do you enunciate the “th”? I always do, but I often hear the word pronounced as “sy.”

    Robert: I mean the long handled, crescent-bladed weapon. I pronounce the ‘th’. I am not familiar with the other tool you describe. Anybody who uses a scythe to cut tall weeds between tall corn and a brushy fencerow in August heat, is indeed a grim reaper. Gene