Aragorn: Sam, do you know the Athelas plant?
Sam: Kingsfoil, aye, it’s a weed.
Aragorn: It may help to slow the poison. Hurry! – Fellowship of the Ring (movie)
This early summer in Oklahoma has been quite unusual. We’ve had unseasonably cool, wet weather making the outdoors spring up in a riot of lush greenness like we haven’t seen in the last three years of drought. It’s been weeks now of opening the front door and being greeted by the sweet smell of wet grass. The roadsides are knee deep in thick, vibrant waving reeds. The field behind my home resembles my imagination of what the native tall grass prairie must have looked like long ago when the buffalo still roamed.
With all this fabulous growth, however, comes growth of a less welcome kind. Hello weeds.
About a week ago, when a planned trip to help clear storm damage turned out to be unnecessary, I found myself all dressed up with no place to go. So I decided to put my work clothes and sunscreen to a good use and tackle the flower bed in front of my home which had been consumed by overgrowth. At the onset of spring, I had made one brief attempt to remove some of the weeds which had ended spectacularly when a tiny baby snake slithered over my hand then turned and arched up his neck in a menacing posture. I squealed. I squealed some more. After I finally opened the door so that my squeals could carry into the house, my husband came. He laughed at me. He refused to relocate the snake, and that was the beginning of several weeks of weeding strike. All the rapidly growing green things in the yard had taken advantage of my absence and proliferated wildly. They had expanded to completely cover all the little bushes and flowers that had been lovingly purchased and strategically planted. There was no way greenhouse-coddled seedlings could have a chance against such wild vigor. If my pretty colorful blooms were to survive, the weeds had to go.
I have issues with weeding. I have guilt. I have doubts. I have regrets.
Some weeds are less emotionally provoking that others. Big prickly weeds with sharp thorns clearly spring up as close as possible to my delicate flowers in order to block all the sunlight and hog all the water and choke the weaker plants out of existence. The only regrets these cause me is that they always tempt me to impetuously grab them without the protection of gloves and a tangle with one frequently sends me stomping off to the shed licking my wounds. Some weeds bring only feelings of wrath. For the past three years or so, Bermuda grass has really angered me. This foreign interloper sends out invading shoots that spread like a cancer through a fresh tilled bed. Like a cancer. I really hate that even on a bright, warm welcoming day, when all the world seems happy to be alive, a weed can make me think of cancer. The final insult is the fact that my poor yard has so many spots of bare dirt where I would welcome and water any green shoot that would have covered them, but the Bermuda grass is just greedy. It shuns my yard despite my best efforts to entice it, and chooses instead to focus all its efforts on advancing into my flowerbeds and garden plots. I don’t hesitate. I pull it up.
Other weeds, however are more tricky. Small, soft, green things pluck at my heartstrings. Purple topped hen-bit, lacy little ferns, and even cheerful dandelions all cause me angst. It seems so unfair that some plants get labeled weeds merely because they are unwanted, unplanned. I regret that they landed at the wrong place and time in my poor flowerbed instead of some obliging field where they could have flourished. Worse perhaps are the little green shoots barely poking their tops out of the soil that bring moments of hesitation. I don’t remember planting a seed in that spot, but perhaps I am mistaken. Is is a weed, unwanted, or a forgotten seed or even a volunteer from seasons past? If I pluck it, will I be missing some great moment of spectacular revelation when an unexpected blossom springs to life?
I am not the only one who suffers from weed regret. My husband says that worry about accidentally pulling a wanted plant often prevents him from weeding at all, preferring a garden bed overgrown with weeds to the idea of losing even one little seedling. Though my angst appears to be more varied than his, however, it doesn’t stop me from weeding. Instead, when I make up my mind to pull weeds I work with abandon that fills my husband with dread for his plants. I feel sad and sorry for all the poor little weeds and I channel all my regretful emotions into a comprehensive clean out that will hopefully delay the task being repeated for as long as possible.
There have been weeds in my life. Some were harsh and abrasive, others sucked up all the joy and energy around them, a few invaded like cancer. No matter how many wounds it caused, it was clear that these weeds had to go. Gloves off. No hesitation. Even more tragic though have been those unwanted, unplanned soft, sweet weeds that popped into my life at the wrong place and time and had to be sacrificed to the greater good of prior commitments and limited resources. I still mourn many of these, and I especially wonder about the ones that didn’t grow long enough to mourn. Some days, the loss of the tiniest shoots, the ones that were never allowed to grow in my life long enough to even declare themselves, seems the greatest regret of all.
I have myself been a weed more than I would wish to admit. Surely not by my intent, but life seems to drift us all into places that look like fertile ground and turn out to be a hostile environment. There were times I needed to be uprooted. Times when others could see more clearly where I fit in than I could myself. Looking back, some of the changes in my life that I appreciate the most were put in motion by the hand of another, plucking me out of my comfort zone, weeding me out of one path and forcing me find a better place for myself to grow.
We all deal with our weeds differently. My husband’s tendency to avoid weeding for fear of losing plants has led him to hang on to people and things in his life to the point that his Facebook friends list tops 1,300 and our attic and garage overflow with cherished items that might one day be needed. I, however, have been deeply affected by the times I have of necessity had to drastically weed my life. I pack light, keep my closets constantly streamlined, and it has taken years for my friends list to finally reach 150. I frequently go on cleaning sprees that uproot every unnecessary item to pass on to others. Surely I have passed on people as well. I clearly have less people hanging around the edges of my life than my husband has. Undoubtedly, this keeps my life neater and prevents some drains on my personal resources, but it’s also likely that I have lost many friendships that could have made surprisingly wonderful blooms along the way.
Every year I fantasize about xeriscaping, or smart scaping, our yard. I dream of some form of landscaping that could potentially eliminate all the grass and replace it with native plants that would grow free form. No more mowing. No more pulling weeds. It sounds worry free. For some reason, though, I never actually do it. I’m not sure what that really says about me. Does it mean that I am a pessimist who thrives on the angst of pulling weeds? Or perhaps, could it mean that I am secretly an optimist. That by giving weeds a chance, I am keeping an opening for surprise in my life. Someday I might let a weed slip through and by happy accident I might discover a single “weed” that could become wanted, even needed, useful to slow the poisons of life.
Perhaps the possibility of weeds, the hope of unlooked for growth no matter how awkwardly or uncomfortably it springs up , is the greatest medicine of all.