“There are flowers in my garden,
Pretty ones all in a row;
But my favorites are the weeds-
They don’t know where to go-
But they know enough to grow!”
Livingston Taylor, Loving Be My New Horizon
I have been weeding my riding arena this week. We were gone for about a week and when we got home, we discovered that the natural world had ramped it up several notches in our absence. All my beautiful perennial gardens were starting to look voluptuous-I know, it may seem late to most of the country, but we have perennials blooming all summer long. The wildflowers that I sowed into my flower beds were already blooming, and the greenhouse looked like a jungle.
And this is what I always forget. The weeds. There is nothing that grows so enthusiastically in this cool, high desert, arid environment as the weed population. It is quite remarkable. Roots that are an inch in diameter! Bushy habits a foot across! They can grow in the driest, most barren ground. Such as my arena, a wonderful 200×150 yard monstrosity where three riders can comfortably canter separate circles at once. I love my arena. It has a soft deep layer of soil covered with small gravel. It looks like the surface of the moon. Covered with weeds.
I had a lot of time to think about weeds while I was strong-arming them out of the dirt for three days running. I filled my LARGE wheelbarrow five times to the brim. Why exactly are weeds weeds? What makes a plant a weed and not a flower? Most weeds flower and some rather prettily. So wouldn’t it make sense for us to like them better? Then they could fill our gardens with impunity and we could quit breaking our backs keeping them at bay.
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
In a Wikipedia entry on weeds, it is written that “they often grow quickly and reproduce quickly, have seeds that persist in the soil seed bank for many years, or have short lifespans with multiple generations in the same growing season. Perennial weeds often have underground stems that spread out under the soil surface or, like ground ivy.” True, dat! It explains a lot. And those qualities are not seen as virtues. It is a curious thing. Weeds are strong, tenacious, tough and persistent. They are networkers, spreading far and wide underneath the ground, their connections to one another insuring that they are not stamped out. They are undaunted by hail, snow, cold, rain, drought, wind, sandstorms, being trampled by animals, or pestilence. Nothing vanquishes them except toxic poisons raining down on their heads that are deleterious to everything else as well!
Personally, I think I need to live a lot more like a weed and a lot less like one of my lovely cultivated flowers that I work so hard to baby along, protect from every adversity, and pet and coddle with lots of expensive organic compost and mulch! Instead of having shallow tender roots that can be ripped out by the smallest traumas, I need to have a big old massive tap root that goes deep and hangs on hard. I want to be part of a rugged network, connected to those around me by bonds that are impossible to sever, that persist in spite of repeated assaults. I want to be able to withstand all kinds of difficult conditions and still grow and be strong. You have to admire weeds on some level. They are the ultimate survivors. I have no doubt that when the world has been utterly destroyed by some global insult, and everything is left completely devastated, singed and smoldering, the weeds in my riding arena will soon poke their heads out, look around, and reach for the sky.
Guess I had better get back to work.