Paw-Paw Action Alert

I understand special interest groups are hard at work alerting their membership about the series of meetings on zoning possibilities and changes to our Spartanburg County land use ordinances.

I’d like to offer a few talking points of my own and focus on a small part of the changes under discussion with our county ordinances: stream-side buffers.

I’d like to let my stomach vote for stream-side buffers. The largest native fruit in North America, the paw-paw, grows wild on a medium-height tree with tropical foliage along our local streams.

The vegetation along our streams is often cleared for a number of selfish human reasons such as recreation, views of the water, or simply because those who own the land there don’t find underbrush or forest aesthetically pleasing.

I’m opposed to allowing property owners to clear stream-side vegetation. I hope my county council will be as well, and once the ordinance is passed, I hope they will find a way to enforce it.

Most of the arguments for stream-side buffers focus on maintaining water quality for drinking and daily use, as if the only sound reason a human being would save or regulate anything is self-interest. Though I am a self-interested human being, I usually try not to start there. I believe that left to their own devices many human beings, those plunderers of the earth, would foul their nest, clear-cut Eden, turn rivers and streams into swill-if there was a profit to be made.

The edges of temperate forest streams, one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems in North America, are under assault from unregulated development, erosion, invasive species, and tree-farming The persistent drought years have made these delicate spaces dryer as the water table is reduced. Natural wetlands and flood plains are threatened. But the paw-paw persists.

It’s ripe paw-paw week along Lawson’s Fork, and I can’t stop thinking about them. I’ve been down on the creek three times a day this year looking for ripe paw-paws. Despite the drought this might very well be a paw-paw record yield for years to come. They are so abundant that I was actually hit in the head when one dropped as I passed underneath. I felt like I should coin the term “gravity” or something, but I think that’s already taken.

When I visit the remembered wild groves of paw-paws I crawl among the devil’s walking stick and the blackberry brambles common to uncleared stream-sides to gather them. I return with legs scratched and itchy, but it’s worth it every time.

When I find a paw-paw on the ground I bite a hole in the dull green skin and suck out the yellow fruit, black seeds and all. Every time I find two I eat one and put the other in my pocket to carry home.

This year we’ve gathered so many paw-paws that we were able to make four loaves of paw-paw bread yesterday, and we found it so sweet and tasty that we can’t wait for the next high-yield year to give us another chance at eating off the land.

We’ve maybe got a few more days of paw-paw gathering, and then I’ll have to leave what’s left to the raccoons and possums.

I know that some of my friends in special interest groups are opposed to land-use ordinances, but I know they would enjoy a good paw-paw as much as I do.

County Council, I want to see the paw-paw flourish, and even extend its range. I vote for stream-side buffers. I vote for you to govern and pass the regulations we need. I vote for the paw-paw.

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