AVERY ISLAND — For nearly two decades, Judith Bussey has diligently made the pilgrimage to the bamboo groves located on Avery Island.

Bussey took her first bamboo journey in 1997 after being inspired by a trip to Indonesia where she was exposed to the perennial flowering plant. Bussey, who lives in Newton, Texas, said she returns to Avery Island every year because she enjoys collecting bamboo for her own arts and crafts, for the friends she’s made over the years, but also for the joyful experience of working in the groves.

“It makes wonderful line material,” Judith Bussey said. “I look for a piece that is distorted. I use all of them. We have a spotted bamboo back home that’s amazing. But it is more than that, it’s spiritual being in that grove.”

More than 50 other bamboo lovers from Washington, Texas, New Mexico and other parts of the country, gathered at Avery Island this weekend  to thin bamboo in the island’s historic groves for the 18th Annual Avery Island Grove Cleanup which is organized by the Louisiana-Gulf Coast Chapter of the American Bamboo Society and family members of Avery.

The weekend started off with an opening reception held at the Ramada Inn on Friday night where old friends reintroduced themselves to one another and revealed why they are addicted to bamboo.

“I’m a doctor and I’ve dealt with all kinds of things and met different types of people, but I’m convinced this bamboo stuff is a virus,” Judith’s husband Jim Bussey said jokingly Friday night.

Many of the volunteers explained why they’re passionate about bamboo, how they use it in their everyday lives and what makes them volunteer each year. 

Artie Turner, who is also from East Texas, has attended the event five times since 2010 and says the experience of clearing the bamboo is immensely special. 

“It’s one of the few places you find people who like bamboo,” Turner said. “There’s a magical aspect when seeing bamboo this big.”

Carole Meckes, from Austin, Texas, who is known amongst the volunteers as the “Bamboo Queen” for her passion for making bamboo jewelry said returning every year is like a reunion and it’s the people who keep her coming back.

“It’s like a little family reunion and you get to meet a lot of people who love bamboo, too,” she said.

The bamboo lovers can give thanks to Edward Avery “E.A.” McIlhenny.

McIlhenny planted it on the island, in particular the part of Prospect Hill Ridge, in April of 1910, but the annual thinning takes place in Ken Ringle’s portion of the island that was left to him by his mother. Ringle’s grove holds three different types of bamboo: moso, henon, and Japanese timber. The grove is the biggest and oldest grove in the nation.

Margie Krebs-Jespersen, a volunteer, said she is infatuated with how the bamboo came to the island.

“It’s the history,” she said passionately. “The fact that someone went out there and planted all of it and took care of it.”

The volunteers, which included about 15 members of the Boy Scouts of America, Troop 133 of New Iberia, gathered at Ringle’s grove (which is not open to the public) to begin the thinning process Saturday morning.  As they began sawing and cutting down bamboo, the plant was divided into two groups. 

The newer and more green bamboo was placed in a pile for the volunteers to sort through for their own personal use. The other bamboo was piled and processed through a wood chipper and turned into mulch that would add nutrients to the ground and promote healthy bamboo growth.

“My wife uses bamboo in flower arrangements,” said Jim Bussey. “If you don’t administer to it, it will get everywhere.”

Judith Bussey said she will be making a floral arrangement to commemorate the event. 

The volunteers on Sunday will craft the bamboo they received from the thinning to make canes and a variety of other goods before departing — just to come together again one year later for yet another pilgrimage to the bamboo groves of Avery Island.

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