Everything and Nothing: Getting Down with the Devil

Aïda Rogers

Posted Sept. 20, 2021

By Aïda Rogers

When it comes to house and yard work, I can only be described as one thing – not interested. There is an exception, though: the immersive – subversive? – work of pulling vines. And destroying them. And rooting them out forever.

It’s shocking how my inner warrior emerges when faced with mountains of thorny green. Pull and yank. Yank and pull. Scream. Grunt. Whack. Wipe sweat from eyes. Start again. With my pink suede gloves and red Ace Hardware clippers, it’s hard not to think I’m some sort of dragon-slayer, taking charge, forsaking all others.

That ivy consuming these walls must be vanquished. Rapunzel is waiting, diddling with those braids. The girl wants a pixie cut after all these years and if I can rip this mess away she can lift the window, climb out, and I can really put these clippers to work. Then she can skip away alone, heart whole and head light, to live freely ever after. I’ll watch her, then turn back to my wall. My work doesn’t end. I’m in the grip of the wicked aralia spinosa, with its prickly shoots and fearsome root. They don’t call this the Devil’s Walking Stick for nothing.

Back alongside the porch, I take up my weapons and strategize. Clippers pointed in the dirt, I dig. And continue. Then dig with my fingers – down, down, down. Then up! I’ve got it – the heart of the monster. Bulbous, white

 and misshapen, the root of the plant recalls The Exorcist, and thanks to me it’s been wrested from the earth. Waaaa-haaaa. I snap a photo.

Inside, fed and showered, I research the thing I’ve conquered. Ow – aralia spinosa provides food for birds, bees and butterflies. Ow-Ow – centuries ago its roots and berries were used for home remedies – namely toothaches. Wildflower.org even uses the words “aromatic” and “spicy” to describe its roots and fruit. I give the Exorcist thing a sniff. Nothing.

I’m gratified to learn, also from Wildflower.org, that aralia spinosa was “occasionally planted in the Victorian era as a grotesque ornamental.” That I can visualize. A starchy overdressed aristocrat instructing a worker to “Place it there, Seigfried, a little something repulsive will set off our hollyhocks nicely, don’t you think?” (I’ve got Maggie Smith in this role.)

But I digress. And I’m getting ugly, as my grandmother would say. There’s a place in the world for Devil’s Walking Stick, and it’s been here a lot longer than I have. Still, I can’t work up the enthusiasm some extension agents exude on YouTube, especially for the shrub’s unusual leaflet pattern. They inevitably point out the stems’ sharp “spines.” So much for “thorns.”

I look at my root and note my reaction. I’m horrified in a thrilled sort of way, and proud. But what do I do with it? Boil it? Paint it? Take it to church for baptism? I’m not sure I care as long as I can end this column with a punch. I try this idea and that one. One sentence, then another. Nothing works. And then I get it. The Devil got me.

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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