The ivy is probably the only thing I have ever planted that did exactly what I wanted. It started as a single snippet of vine about six inches long in a square plastic pot about three inches deep. I bought it to serve as part of a centerpiece for a wedding shower that I was helping host and when the shower was over I brought it home and planted it at the corner of the carport. It was stringy and spindly and I suspected that it would not live, which proves I didn’t know much about ivy.
The hope was that the ivy would grow and spread and create ground cover for a spot that never dries out completely during the winter. The hope was that it would create a long mound of pillowy green the length of the carport, a broad swathe of leaves that look like arrowheads, an optical illusion suggesting that I actually spend time tending things in my yard. Never has hope been so well-rewarded.
It has been — I think — about 20 years (though, to be honest, it could be anywhere from 10 to 35. I am not a gardener who keeps records) since I planted that orphan ivy. It has grown like the kudzu that lurks not too far away in the branch and it has done far more than originally asked. On any number of occasions I have gone outside with clippers and gathered enough to surround a punch bowl or drape along the mantle or, in one special instance, make a bridal bouquet for my niece.
Despite its utility, however, ivy can be, if not exactly a problem, at least a pest. With its Velcro-like tendrils, it can bind itself to wood and masonry and, if not monitored, the wood will rot and the mortar between the bricks will crumble like shortbread cookies. Ivy is — like some people — beautiful in photographs, but a booger to encounter in real life.
Thus, a day or so ago on the prettiest afternoon I have seen since the previously prettiest afternoon I have ever seen, I decided the time was right. Time to attack this thing that I had invited to make itself at home.
Cut back. A common phrase. We cut back on spending. On carbs. A couple of weeks ago, a large employer in a neighboring county implemented cutbacks, turned the verb phrase into a noun meant to carry a connotation slightly less negative than the word layoffs and to avoid completely any use of the word firings. Interestingly, none of those usages involve a literal cutting. Attacking my ivy did.
I grabbed as many vines as I could in one fist and thrust the other fist, the one holding the pruning shears, into a web of leafy loops. The blades clicked as they bit into the woody stems. Clicked again when I eased the grip. I developed a rhythm of thrust, cut, pull. The amputated vines came loose in my hand, the intact ones maintained the tension of connection to which I responded by backing away and pulling harder. It felt a lot like the resistance of a trout on a line.
Tension. Resistance. It is an essential part of cutting.
I wish I knew how to do it otherwise. I wish I knew how to rid my yard, my mind, my heart of overgrown things, things that no longer serve, things that if left in place will eventually crumble my foundation, without feeling the painful stretch of muscles I haven’t used in a while.
It took about an hour to make a pile big enough to fill the wheelbarrow. I carted it off to the edge of the branch and dumped it out, the leaves — severed from the roots that keep them alive — already curling on the edges. From there I could see how much I’d accomplished: enough to provoke a feeling of satisfaction, not enough to mean I could stop. For today or forever.