Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dances with Weeds

If that last post was the Blue Angels of blog posts, this one will have to be the quiet garden corner. I want to write about something a lot less sexy, namely: what different weeds feel like when you pull them out of the ground.

But seriously, folks, this is cool stuff! I mean, what non-gardener would ever bother to think about this? What non-gardener could even IMAGINE that this would be a thing one might think about? I think the fact that I have thought about it means I am now, truly, a gardener. Not convinced yet? Well, allow me to expound...

There are those weeds you have to pinch real low, below dirt level, and pull on with as much of your thumb's surface area as possible and at least two fingers nubbed up around the base, to keep it from slipping out or burrowing even further into the earth like a clam (don't even try to tell me they don't do this). Certain kinds of dandelions fall into this category, those which even when small manage to send their one spindly spine straight down to merge with the earth, to become one with the soil, to become lost in it to live to fight another day. That little purple Oxalis (corniculata) also falls into this category. It loves to give you a whole bouquet of its flimsy stems while its mess of root fibers stays stashed safely below ground. The Oxalis can be deceptive: you haven't got the roots if you haven't pulled a bunch of dirt out with them.

Then there are the easy ones--that tall, long-leafed dandelion, for example, which I love to pull out by lightly grasping the top of the plant and giving it a little jerk straight up. It comes out like a button unbuttoning. And of course there is the stinky geranium (weird GOOD stink) that pulls up so easy it's fun--a whole shirtfront of buttons unbuttoning all the way down its row of root nodes...though it never seems to actually go fact, what's up with that? It's like every time you think you've gotten it, you've really just gotten its doppelganger. The real plant--the Platonic "form" of Geranium robertianum, perhaps--never gets effectively weeded out; is always there when you return, even the next day.

Well, I suppose this is true of all weeds in Seattle. They're never really gone, resurrected always by the rain. One might call it a constant battle. Another might call it a dance.


This is an ongoing point of contention between my brother and Christiane, a woman he works with often. She says battle, he says dance. They are both professional gardeners, and it's questionable whether their ongoing back-and-forth about this is, in itself, a battle or a dance.

When it comes down to it, I think they both know it's two ways of saying the same thing.

Think of Hemingway. Remember Santiago in 'The Old Man and The Sea', so exhausted by his struggle with the fish that he does not know if he will survive it. He says (in a moment of union between hunter and hunted):

"Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who."

Such humility! Such respect. Such full presence in the company of another. Surely in a moment like this the fierceness of battle gives way to the temperance of dance, and the will to exert one's power over the world gets lost in the rush of union.

It's hard for me to imagine a professional gardener feeling this way about the weeds he is pitted against on a daily basis, but perhaps the key is in how you choose to see it: not as being pitted at all, one being against another, but rather as two beings revolving around a common center.

"Never have I seen a greater, or more persistent, or a cleverer or more hardy thing than you, brother," he might say, "Come on and smother my garden. I do not care who kills who."


With a powerful three-fingered extraction for this one, and a light tug for that one, I will know my enemy.

Or, fine: I will know my partner in the dance.

1 comment:

gregory said...

Maybe I with thimble berry or salal. However stinky geranium hhhmmmm.....
What else would we do with our lives if it weren't for weeds?