Thrash a thistle
They’re back.It’s midsummer, and all across the land you can see them. The thistles have returned in force to terrorize the open spaces of Pitkin County.Over there, that’s Canada thistle with its lavender flowers blooming atop the hairy, sticky stalks. And there, in Old Snowmass and up the Crystal River, is the pesky musk thistle, with its dark green leaves and the little pricker-stickers that seem to leap off their branches penetrating your fingers. Let’s not forget the plumeless thistles that are all over the county and seem to find a home whenever and wherever a new ditch, hole or road is dug.Yes, we are inundated by thistles and other noxious, non-indigenous weeds in this part of the valley. In 2004, Pitkin County listed 21 different weeds that are invasive and added an addendum with another 11 weeds that have been identified in nearby counties as having the potential to move into Pitkin as well. Yuk.A few years ago, there was a bumper sticker seen around town that read “Thrash a Thistle for Fritz.” It was part of a campaign to raise awareness for the need to eradicate these invaders before they took over and forced out the “local” weeds (kind of like second-home owners). There are folks who still take that saying to heart and get out into the fields, along the dirt roads, into the ditches, and down by the streams to knock out as many thistles as they can before they get too high and go to flower.Living in Old Snowmass, a hotbed for the insurgents, I try to do my part to get a handle on thistles. The problem is, there are so many of them and so few of me. I will walk the road with a good sharp ax, wade into the fields and stomp on the roots of the thistles. Once they are down I will “thrash” them with the ax, separating the stalks from the root system. It seems, though, that for each I destroy, six more rise up to take their place. Still, it feels like the right thing to do, to try to save the natural vegetation on my little mesa.For the uninitiated, the Fritz on the bumper sticker refers to a pioneer of modern Aspen, Fritz Benedict. Fritz, who died in 1995, was an architect, land planner and one of the premier progenitors of the Aspen Idea. Benedict is noted as a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright, and his buildings reflected that tutelage.But it came as a surprise to me that his apprenticeship with Wright began when he became the head gardener at Taliesin, Wright’s famed school for architects in Spring Green, Wis. It was there that Benedict began his association with the earth and the things that grow in it. Later in life, he became a strong advocate for the removal of noxious weeds, hence the slogan “Thrash a Thistle for Fritz.”They may seem overwhelming, but if you can this weekend, grab an ax, a shovel, or a machete and walk your land. You may not get them all, but thrashing a thistle or two is good land management.Do it for your land. Do it for Fritz.
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