weeds: necessary diversion, and a wallop of wisdom besides
welcome to my weedy world. in which, overnight, the overpopulation of unsolicited, uninvited and unbeckoned trespassers has left the invited assembly of little darlings in my beds gasping for air, shrieking for rights, and without so much as an inch to shake out their gangly roots.
furthermore, it’s left me — the one-armed gardener — at the mercy of the zillions of tensed-up muscle strands that striate my way-down back, the ones over-used to make up for the current lack of pulling power in my left-sided yanker, the limb whose bones are deep at work knitting themselves back into a whole (or so we hope, but that’s a worry for another day…).
which is to say: no one around here is all too tickled at what’s become of springtime’s fragile promise, when the gardens were soft with tender shoots, tight-wadded commas of fern, and unhyphenated stretches of loam as rich and dark as a fine espresso.
the interlopers all slipped in whilst i was otherwise occupied. and then, once i slipped on my nifty little reading lenses (those clear-eyed windows to the world that, more and more, are mandatory lest i choose to take in the view in one big blur), i realized that all the lush foliage upholstering the gardens was not some miracle of my growing skills, but rather the mere recalcitrance of a bumper crop of weeds who took advantage of my oblivion, blew the whistle and let the gallop to the clouds commence.
why, i’ve got itty-bitty maple trees growing smack-dab in the midst of hosta clumps. and ash trees dare to squiggle through the peonies, not yet in bloom. some stinky cousin of wild fennel has set out to overtake the yard, never mind the grass that’s in its way. and dandelions? i might as well call a truce, and snip it by the gallon as i’m told it makes a fine — if bitter — late spring salad.
i was lamenting all this overgrowth when margaret roach — she of martha stewart gardening fame, and author of a weekly newsletter (awaytogarden.com) that plops into my mailbox and bolsters my sagging gardener’s gloves — dropped in to let me know i was hardly alone. she too was moaning about “the shaggies,” the inevitable season of demise when what was tender, was confined, was obeying all your garden visions, suddenly dissolves into mad dishevelment, and you’ve nothing left to do but sit and weep. or start yanking.
and now, hot showers ought to be my hourly balm (alas, i’m afraid of the water bills). were i to do as the doctor ordered, i’d aim the pulsing shower beads bullet-like onto my low back, and wait for the occupational spasming to pass.
in the meantime, my yard is littered with the dehydrating remains of all that threatened to do in my beds. and still there are hours left to wrestle with the tangled roots and stubborn vines, the voluptuous leaves that all but stick a thumb into my fool-gardener eye and taunt, “catch me if you can!”
i’ve mostly been attacking in spurts — for that’s what you do for distraction when you’re pounding away on a keyboard for hours on end, worrying ceaselessly about whether a comma belongs here or there, and trying to drum up a substitute word for one you realize you’ve pushed past its limits.
and during those quarter-hourly sessions, i’ve had plenty of minutes to contemplate the virtues of subtracting from our over-clogged lives whatever it is that tangles our own inner works.
for, in the end, isn’t the zen of gardening all wrapped up in the fact that we extract our life lessons from earthworms and bees, from snapped-in-two stalks and beloved perennials that, after years of sheer joy, suddenly and without notice give up the ghost?
it’s why i muck in the dirt, really.
oh, sure, my heart does a thumpety-thump when at last i awake to the morning when the peony bursts into deep fuchsia bloom. or when the blue of baptisia wafts in the afternoon breeze.
but the truth of the matter is that i pay attention to the beds because i am so deeply hungry for all the wisdom contained there. and i soak it all up like a sunflower guzzling what shoots from the nozzle.
weeds aren’t too complicated (even if obliterating them from the premises verges on the impossible): they threaten the beautiful. they inhale too much oxygen. and drink more than their share of the rain.
so, too, the parts of our life that all on their own might hold merit but in rambunctious abundance distract us from the holy essence. keep us from getting our own best job done. whether that means signing up for so much PTA, we barely have time to curl up with our babies at bedtime. or taking on so many sentences we’re shoving aside the chance to soak up an afternoon’s stroll with a friend who’s in need. or merely surrender our quieted heart for as long as it takes for a blessed whisper to settle in and remind us of the very thing we need to know to go forward.
over the years — truth be told, it’s taken a good half century — i’ve discovered the wisdom of no. of not scribbling my name on every sign-up sheet passed under my nose. of not filling my hours with command performances that wither my soul. of not living my life as if a girl scout going for badge after good-camper badge.
i suppose — after years of trial and error, of skinned knees and bare-truth confessionals — i’ve learned a thing or two about keeping the weeds out of my days.
and now, it’s the ones hijacking my yard that i’m hellbent on yanking.
on the subject of weeds, i ought to pass along this soon-to-be-published encyclopedic compendium, weeds of north america, which dominique browning described thusly in last sunday’s new york times book review:
“If you’re someone whose idea of perfect bedtime reading is “Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs,” you’re in luck — a bumper crop of excellent reference books is on its way. The encyclopedic WEEDS OF NORTH AMERICA (University of Chicago, paper, $35; available in August), by Richard Dickinson and France Royer, is going to have pride of place on my bedside table for years to come. It covers more than 600 species from 69 plant families at every stage of growth. Royer’s photographs are almost perversely alluring. They make you want to go out and plant weeds. Which, er, actually I do.”
and now the week’s question, which you might answer here or merely in the quiet of your own heart: if you were to weed the messiness out of your life, where might you begin the yanking?
Nice article-i will get this book! td
I don’t know the answer to your question, but I am currently pondering the weeds that take root when the earth is disturbed. In New Mexico, when I bought my very first home, complete with 1 1/2 acres of scrub land, I was delighted by the cholla, those dangerous spiked branches of cacti, that first show hard yellow bulbs that then blossom into deep pink flowers. I thought my place on earth was so special until someone blasé-ly said, “Oh, it’s just all that disturbed earth – chollas always spring up there.” I felt like a junkyard dog in a new junkyard. But now we’ve moved to Santa Cruz, California. And guess what is springing up in our newly disturbed front yard?! Tiny shoots of calla lilies, poking through the redwood mulch! It seems that these elegant flowers gravitate to newness, too, a gift to a newcomer in their midst.
hey honey, who knew that you were no longer a new mexican?!?!?! congrats on the move. santa cruz — i can only dream of the gardens you could grow there. i think i need to come inspect first-hand. sounds like callas follow you wherever you go. except don’t look for em back in illinois. will not happen. xoxo
Time and again, you prove yourself a kindred soul! I’ve learned more by paying attention not only to my garden but to all of nature and to the quiet whisperings I hear among the flora and fauna.
I have always privately referred to difficult, necessary weed-pulling as the “Damn Yankies!” When I call it this, it makes me laugh, and makes me more light-hearted as I go about this chore. I’ve often wondered why flowers don’t bloom as prolifically as weeds. Actually, I’ve come up with a good philosophical answer to this question — bet you could as well!
Love your musings about keeping the weeds out of your days: YES. I’m with you in this! xox
dear kindred soul, (with my one-handed typing that first came out “kindred soup.” i do amuse myself with my typing these days!),
i will forever call my weeds “damn Yankies!” i think that could be the title of a book.
isn’t the cyberworld uncanny, the way out of all the pin dots in the world, it has somehow flung us into the same orbit??!??!?! wonders upon wonders….
i’m giving you trademark rights to DY, by the way.