In Greek mythology Sisyphus, the king of Ephyra, was punished for his deceitfulness and duplicity by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this for eternity.
As understood today, a Sisyphean task is one that is laborious, never ending and potentially futile.
The word came up this week at a public forum hosted by the Waitsfield Conservation Commission to take public comment on a plan to treat knotweed on a town-owned parcel of land using herbicides as well as mowing.
At that forum, commissioners heard from state officials, contractors, the public and community organizations. They also heard from others who explained how very difficult it is to manage knotweed and other invasives using only manual and mechanical cutting. It gets even more Sisyphean if that cutting is done by volunteers and more so when volunteer boards have to try and coordinate the volunteers.
That being said, the sentiment in the room this week was strongly in opposition to using herbicides. There was great support for a communitywide volunteer effort to manually manage knotweed on that site and along the river. And the conservation commission is willing to take that approach with the understanding that as an all-volunteer board with many time-consuming and ongoing projects on its plate, its members can’t take point on coordinating volunteers.
As a community, we need to ask ourselves who will take point on this? Who will volunteer to coordinate the volunteers who will cut the invasives? Who will keep track of when they need to be cut and what happens to them after they are pulled and cut? Who will answer the question of when we’re succeeding?
And if the volunteer coordinator of volunteers gets burned out which town or which organization will seek a grant to pay a coordinator? How can we ensure that this task is not of the Sisyphean? Let’s give it our best and bear in mind that the problem worsens every month of the growing season.
The final decision rests with the Waitsfield Select Board whose members will be briefed by the conservation commission at their next meeting.