Fighting to rid the Shuswap of prickly plants

From measles to gout, rheumatism and more, burdock root has been used to treat a number of maladies for centuries in Chinese medicine

Weed begone: Clay Lank holds a piece of offending burdock

From measles to gout, rheumatism and more, burdock root has been used to treat a number of maladies for centuries in Chinese medicine.

But to Clay Lank, it’s “a pain in the rump.”

At 83 years of age, Lank is on a mission to eliminate burdock, thistle and purple loosestrife from McGuire Lake Park.

In summer, Lank begins his attack on the offending weeds at 5:30 in the morning, working tirelessly until 8, when his breakfast is served.

“When days were cooler, I’d wander back out to get rid of the weeds in the sidewalk,” he says. “Each day I find a new project area.”

A resident of the McGuire Lake Congregate Living facility, Lank’s room looks out at the park.

“How could you not fall in love with that view?” he asks.

Lank is exceedingly familiar with thistles and the downside of burdock root.

Growing up on a farm in Vegreville, Alta., Lank spent many an hour hauling thistles out of the ground.

“If you can get them by the root you stop them,” he says. “I would have been happy not to be interested in burdock, but years ago when I working with horses, they would come in with their manes and tails loaded with burdocks; their tails particularly looking just like a four-by-four (piece of lumber).”

As well as being a farrier, among other careers, Lank hauled livestock in his younger days and says some calves at auction were so covered with burdocks, they would fetch substantially less money.

Back at McGuire Lake, Lank works more than two hours every morning except Sunday, when he goes to church.

It is an excellent opportunity to get exercise and fresh air and a sense of doing something worthwhile and constructive in the community, he says.

“This has been a lifesaver for me – I can’t sit around twiddling around, watching TV or sitting on my rump,” he says. “I figure I am in reasonably good health. The exercise keeps me in shape and builds a good appetite.”

More than that, Lank can’t bear to see the burdocks and thistles growing around this real gem of the Shuswap.

“I can’t cope with it. My answer to the problem is do something about it,” he says. “I can’t understand how anybody has let it go. For years, nobody has tried to eliminate it.”

Lank says in years past he has seen burdocks growing six, seven and eight feet tall around the lake and explains that when the flower heads ripen, the burrs cling to whatever comes within their reach and seeds can be blown around or transported by animals.

Sitting in the cool shade of the walled-in courtyard of the facility that is his home, Lank points to a  small garden beneath a tree. Lurking there is a small burdock, a plant with an astounding capacity to grow quickly, he says.

McGuire Lake Congregate Living employee Sherrie Favell says Lank works everywhere.

“We have the cleanest parking lot in town; weeds don’t stand a chance around here,” she says, listing some of the other projects Lank has taken on, including keeping the adjoining Gentech Engineering parking lot clean.

“If I see you drop a cigarette around here, I’ll kick you in the rumpus,” Lank says with a laugh.

That’s something Mayor Nancy Cooper (a confirmed non-smoker who sees Lank often on her walks), promised him she wouldn’t ever do.

“I see him out there cleaning up the garbage, even all the cigarette butts,” she says. “What a great volunteer; I really appreciate what he does and I think the public works people really do too because they can’t get to every cigarette butt.”

Lank meanwhile, intends to fight the burdock and thistles as long as he can, preferring to remain active until the end.

“If I last until the end of September or into October, I’ll have something to do,” he says. “I would like to check out definitely doing something, not lying in a hospital bed or in my room.”

 

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