Southerners know it all too well, the lush green vine that coils, winds, and climbs over everything in its path from trees to houses--Kudzu. Traced back to Asia as its point of origin, it was introduced to the United States as an ornamental bush and an effortless shade producer at the Philadelphia Continental Exposition in 1876.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the vine was rebranded as a way for farmers to stop soil erosion. These days, it is seen by some as an invasive parasite which can take over an acre in a New York minute, but, oh my, it can be so beautiful.
It’s all over everything here in historic Vicksburg, covering old homes making them hardly recognizable behind the thick green carpet that literally weaves itself up walls, across windows, and over the tallest of rooftops. Apparently it’s a largely Southern phenomenon with other regions not so well acquainted.
Recently while taking in the vast beauty of the mountains on a train ride in Colorado and New Mexico, the tour guide was drawn to our accents and the way we added syllables to every word, slowing them down to a crawl. He remarked that one thing we would not find in the Colorado terrain was Kudzu. A transplant from Georgia, he was well aware of our verdant neighbor.
Most folks have a love-hate relationship with Kudzu, often trending more toward hate, passersby crossing over bridges marveling at the landscape of green on either side of dark creeks, or on long drives along the Natchez Trace, curious onlookers studying what is hiding underneath the vines.
My mama did not want it in or near her garden, and her yellow squash and cucumbers had to be protected vigilantly. It reminded her of that distant relative who comes over for a cup of coffee and leaves several weeks later. Mama didn’t much care for those cousins either, but her Southern hospitality usually won out.
I have seen it stretch from giant oaks to the tallest pines and over old barns, forgotten junk cars, and even pond dams. It grows with reckless abandon, quickly consuming all within its path. I suppose it would wrap itself around the shoes of a person who stood still a moment too long, traveling up the body and all the way around the head. Maybe not.
Whether you consider Kudzu a pesky uninvited rival or a welcomed friend to be admired from a distance, one thing is for sure. It ain’t going away. Persistence is usually viewed as a good quality, while aggravation is not. Yet really they can be more or less the same. Does this hearty vine persist or nag, I wonder.
I am pretty sure there is a metaphor for life in here somewhere.
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