Saturday, June 13, 2009

Digesting Weeds

The Pacific Northwest is living up to its drippy reputation today. The rampant weeds in my garden are unabashedly procreating right outside my window, and here I am, making them semi-famous.

I love gardens of all kinds, from the formal and aesthetically managed to untouched, wild Edens. Presently, I live in a house and yard which are mildly shabby--one of those situations in which I see so much potential, but lack the time and money to bring out the best features. Perhaps, at some point, an increase in these resources (or a new kind) will allow me the things I need to recreate my lot. Right now, the only thing I can do is to keep the place up to the best of my ability and hack down the weeds when I can...that way, should we get a dry season this year, the house has less of a chance of burning down in a fire. Or so it is written, in the city code.

In case you don't already know, weeds are a reality which, like love, always wins. It does not matter how much herbicide, what kind of barriers or methods of pulling one uses to control the endless green spread; it takes a mere moment in the big picture for them to return. I have observed people in full battle-gear, armed to the teeth with horrible poison, stomping and spraying any signs of unapproved vegetation in the first blush of Spring. Ah, people, trying to wax the earth. Good luck! She is the Queen of green hairiness. All the plucking and primping can't disguise her true nature, for long.


A gardener surveyed her claim, which the bank gave her legal title to occupy...for now. In the spirit of the story (and experiencing an incredible urge to stop moving), Gardener had jumped through all the expensive hoops to arrive here in this once-manicured place on the map. In her well-developed mind's eye, she saw vegetables and flowers and herbs, a greenhouse, some breathing room. Also, much work. But it was worthy work. And with a little luck, the place could be made attractive, and in a few years could be passed on to someone also willing to do the bank-circus routine. Finally, she could make one last move to a couple of acres nearer the woods, or ocean, or both.

This was the story which Gardener knew, deep down, could never, ever be that simple...but being optimistic and having nothing but this life, she began the work. And it was good. It was in addition to all her other jobs, but it was still real and satisfying as creation had been for her since she was born.

Meanwhile, the story shifted; demands were greater and resources of the traditional type, less. One day, Gardener realized this physical Home Sweet Home was one last story she needed to release. Perhaps the imagined end of the tale would all come true, and perhaps not; peace was most imperative, regardless. She sat on the porch railing and alternated crying with deep breathing until things were clear.

Vision regained, she went into the garden and shoveled and planted. She got on her knees and pulled weeds without gloves. She pulled them out of the lettuce and the onions, because otherwise, they took over and crowded out the frailer, cultivated plants. Pulling without gloves forced/allowed a contact that, in the mental picture, she wanted to do without; it was painful, and she believed she had too much pain, as it was.

Something loving happened, though, in the stability of kneeling on the ground, down amongst the insects and dirt, the decomposition and birth that the garden and Gardener personified. There was a vast variety of growth--millions of beings in her hands, which suddenly held the power of life and death. Bare fingers felt the life-force in the small plants she pulled, gently, from their birthplace. A yank in the heart accompanied each sacrifice. Without protection, there was no escaping the reality of this.

The bodies were put in piles and removed to the compost bin. Mulch was applied as a form of birth control. Still, there was comfort in the fact that wilder plants inherited the earth, in the end.

Around the edge of the garden were taller, often ignored weeds with deeper roots. Most of the time, these were eventually topped with some weapon, but today they would be killed. No gloves, in spite of the spiny stems. Not that Gardener was a masochist (or a sadist), but she was on a reality roll, and stopping to fetch things would be a distraction.

There was something in her that remembered how to cull these plants, exactly how to grasp the stems near the base to bend the small, hairlike spines down so as not to pierce the skin of her hand. How to pull firmly and steadily in such a way that the roots surrendered their after the other, the air redolent and fingers sticky with their milky blood. Aeons, she had been at this work, this maintenence and emotional untangling.

In the end, there was a kind of calmness, an acceptance while she washed away the signs of struggle with dish soap, made tea and looked at a few tiny wounds. The hands, like life, were not so pretty. She didn't shield them enough in case of dirt, germs, paint or fire, as it was written somewhere that she should.

There were still endless prickly weeds to be pulled and probably some more suffering to do. Once in a while, when she was tired, Gardener wished fervently for a magic spell to make things cleaner and easier and more like apple-scented chamomile and thornless roses, rather than scratchy mazes in which one was likely to end by crashing into some kind of holly-blackberry-poison oak thicket.

Now there were dishes to be done and the bank to deal with and an allergy pill to find, as her eyes were starting to itch from all the stirred-up pollen. Damn. The rest of the weeds would have to wait for another if they could be eliminated!

In the afternoon came a phone call from Gardener's brother Scholar, who lived in another state. It was always wonderful to hear from him; at the moment, his mix of scientific cynicism and outright silliness was like a balm to the war-wounds of the mind. She listened as he explained that he was making a diet and nutrition presentation for a class at school, and he wanted to talk about wild edible plants...could she recall any? His internet searches had turned up information, he said, not specific enough.

Let's see...purslane, cattails, dandelions...miner's lettuce, watercress...dock, birch, pine, fern...
Not enough stuff for his region, said Scholar, which was fairly arid and very high above sea level.

"Did you do a search for your state?"
Not exactly...okay, doing one now.

Gardener listened to him making noises on the computer and mumbling...and then came a surprised affirmative when he found the information he was looking for. She chided him affectionately. He was insanely smart, but only used a computer out of necessity.

"Well, what do you know," he exclaimed. "Prickly lettuce! No way! Hey, Sis, you know that weed--the tall one that grows everywhere with the spiny stem--? It's edible."

Gardener's gaze drifted down the steps of the front porch, where she happened to be sitting with the phone, to one of the skinny, spiny plants she spent so much time dealing with, currently growing between two bricks in the front walk.

"You mean the one that makes the yellow flowers on top--the one that grows in every freakin' crack of anything--that weed?"

"Yeah! Lactuca Sapporia...aka Prickly Lettuce. Full of vitamins...slightly bitter..."

She stared at the small weed with new respect. Pulled off a leaf, tore it in half, looked at the milky sap. Put it in her mouth and chewed. Lettuce, with a faintly bitter aftertaste, not unpleasant. Sheesh. Wow.

Of course.


Suffering is love in disguise. There is a polished, beautiful, uniform kind of thing promoted as love, much-hyped and sold as beneficial. For those with an impoverished immune system, that kind of fruit is deadly poison.

Meanwhile, in a humble, prickly form forgotten by our culture for the most part, is a lesson in what nourishes us, spoken in the incredible, synchronous language native to the Real...sent through lines in the heart of the sky, for my continued edification and astonishment. Just in case I ever forget, and believe that love appears as safe, tested, approved or nicely the suffering, Gardener! Taste it. Get to know it. Listen. It is offering itself to you.

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