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Although it was almost mid-December, Ms. Qin cheerfully trudged through the depths of vast reed marshes along the bank of the Yangtze River, her small dog peeking out from her backpack as she collected reeds.
As the late harvest heralds the arrival of winter in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province, Qin joins 200 other volunteers who reap fallen reeds each year.
The collection has become a popular relaxing pastime for local urbanites. Wuhan’s reed marsh has been hailed as the “green kidney of the city” for its role in preserving Wuhan’s eco-system. However, in winter, dried reeds become a fire hazard unless they’re removed, and surviving reeds tend to grow faster and stronger the next year if their fallen neighbors are reaped.
The reeds parallel a section of a ring road sandwiched by downtown Wuhan’s Yangtze River twin bridges, the first of a kind in China. The west bank features a bustling urban atmosphere with crowds of people and cars sating a bar district, while the east bank’s seas of reed flowers and chirping crickets lie in stark contrast. The six-kilometer-wide wild reed belt shelters land east of the city from the urban roar, a natural feature rarely seen elsewhere; and the marshes have become symbolic of ecological Wuhan.
The reeds are attractive all year round.
In spring, they sprout buds, painting the ground light green, and people come to fly kites - respite from the woes of urban high-rises.
In summer, the reeds weave a tall green curtain transforming the area into a summer resort. Locals often report feeling pleasantly cool simply by glancing in the direction of the “green curtain.”
In autumn, the flowering plumes transform the “green curtain” into a long roll of snow-white satin, attracting a healthy stream of newlyweds with cameramen toting two-meter-tall ladders on which the couples will pose. New brides and grooms can be seen playfully chasing each other, laughing and cooing like toddlers as photographers follow them with an endless barrage of clicks to ensure capturing the perfect moment. Families come to witness the natural beauty, especially at sunrise and sunset. A recent survey estimated that the reeds attract more than a million visitors annually from around the world.
As winter creeps in, the reeds become withered, which kicks off a variety of activities such as the Reed Catkins Festival. Volunteers gather with gear for the harvest, and usually end up pledging to return the following year.
Reeds offer even more than entertainment and a pleasant environment. They also provide ideal raw material for making paper, creating jobs for nearby farmers who can earn some extra cash during their off-season. In 2008, an entrepreneur gambled on hiring farmers to reap the reeds and ship them to paper mills. According to estimates, the entire process cost 100,000 yuan and produced about 80 tons of reeds.
“I will come again next year to earn a little extra to pay for a better Spring Festival,” smiled Li Xianming, who took home 2,000 yuan in a month.
And an even more comfortable environment lies ahead for Wuhan residents thanks to a 13.8 billion yuan investment by the municipal government to weave an even larger green blanket, expected to bring the city’s per capita greenbelt up to 10 square meters.