Weeding As a Way of Life

Last fall we teamed up with our neighbors with whom we share a driveway that crosses our respective property lines and hired a guy named Max to bring his excavator out, level the driveways, then smooth out a nice load of gravel (“Gravel #67” from the Stone Center of North Carolina) to give it a uniform look.

Part and parcel of the effort was to bury or otherwise obliterate the veritable weed farm that had grown industriously through the mashup of crummy soil and lifeless little stones over the years.

Max told us that his scraping and sizable overlay of chunky new stone would keep the weeds to a minimum so we shouldn’t have to worry much about an invasion for a good long while. Which is when I should have followed up to ask for a more quantitatively specific definition of “good long while.” But I didn’t.

I came to find out in short enough order, though: about six months.

***

***

That’s when spring saw fit to appear yet again in its old and predictable ways, which always and everywhere includes a renewed profusion of grimly predictable weeds. There they popped up yet again in our long stretch of what had been our mostly gray driveway, accented fetchingly by fallen leaves and pine needles, not a weed anywhere at sundown but mugging contemptuously at us with the dawn.

Under the shadow of night, they had wended their way through the soil, fulfilling their God-given task of offending the aesthetic sensibilities of us orderly types who want plants to adhere to some Platonic ideal of growing where we want them and staying the hell away from where we don’t.

“Dudes, I do not want and cannot bear a patchy glop of crabgrass and dandelions and doveweed growing through stones like some cheap and awful rendition of hair plugs on an aging man whose male pattern baldness resembles an aerial map view of islands in the Caribbean archipelago. Be gone with you!”

But how to accomplish the self-appointed task? Careful applications of Roundup?

Not an option. Don’t mind using poisons on nettlesome bugs (carpenter wasps, OMG!) and select other creatures, but to loose them upon innocent soils that tend to enact payback via the Great Karmic Wheel has always struck me as something close to sin.

Early in this Weed War of 2021, I tried spraying with a mixture of vinegar and water, which had the effect of quickly yellowing and killing the invaders but paradoxically seeming to cause their root systems to lapse into a state of rigormortis, making them nearly impossible to budge for the next 10 days or so. That meant encountering them every time I traversed the driveway or garden to get at more weeds—a thoroughly unpalatable option.

Finally, the truth of what I had to do set me free: the ancient, primitive practice of stooping, fingering the base of each offending weed with a sturdy combination of forefinger and thumb that recruited the metacarpal and forearm muscles to full engagement, and then pulling firmly, with resolve. (Along with a triumphal spirit of accomplishment.)

One down, only 10,000 or so stoops or knee-bends to go.

***

“He was one of those gardeners who would pull weeds anywhere—not just in his own or other people’s gardens, but in parking lots and storefront window boxes, too.”

That’s plant and life guru Michael Pollan, in a lovely 1989 essay in which he amazingly described the exact arc of what became my own obsession with weeds as they infiltrated our new driveway, along with the only-slightly-older gravel paths we had installed along the byways of our front and backyards, and in the lush gardens that Mary has tirelessly designed and cultivated there, and for which neighbors ambling by with their dogs or baby strollers invariably blurt out, “I love your garden, wow!”

It is true that they rarely add, “And hella weeding job there, too!”, but let’s face it, being Chief Weeder in any venue is akin to being a football offensive lineman, laboring in the trenches of obscurity in order to protect the prize quarterback and running backs in their dashes to beauty while the crowds blurt out to them, “We love your touchdowns, wow!”

Not that I need the positive reinforcement, though.

Verily, I say unto you, it is reinforcement enough to feel the deeply satisfying surrender that each individual weed is forced to concede as it gives way to the insistent demands of one hand or other, or in particularly stubborn cases, both hands yanking mightily, or even employing one of those V-shaped weed tools in a multi-pronged assault that amounts to heavy—though organic—artillery in this War That Cannot Possibly End All Wars, Since Weed Wars Will Go on Forever.

Nevertheless, there are triumphs amidst many days of sustained battle, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this side gig occupation of Master Weeder over the years, one overarching truism that holds me in good stead in both desired results and the state of mind required to return and do battle yet again, it is this:

Do a little bit every day. And not necessarily in one session, either.

My strategy at this stage of life has been to become a kind of constant weeder, but mostly in micro-bursts—one, two, five minutes at a time, maybe on rare occasions, 20.

To wit, I try never to walk up or down my driveway or up the steps or paths leading to the gardens without espying and bending down to extract “a few” weeds.

This can be as “few” as three or four, sometimes an intended five or 10 that becomes 20 because, like Pollan’s gardener described above, I can’t always stop myself from indulging my obsession. But rarely do those repeat exertions add up to more than those 20 minutes or so on any given day at peak season.

And you know what? They add up.

The key is to stick with it, one easy pluck at a time, when the weeds are newly sprung through the rocks or soil, their root system not dug in and spread out yet in that way they will be all too soon, especially in drier climes if you’re reading this from there.

Here in North Carolina, we are blessed with magnificent and regular thunderstorms that regularly shower us with their watery gifts of turbulence and drama, an especially welcome occurrence in summer, when the weeds, too, thirstily drink up their abundance.

That, however, is when wily Weed Abatement Aficionados stand ready to pounce, the soils again moist and pliable, the evil weeds temporarily robbed of their firm anchor, defenseless against us marauding hordes of weed haters who give no quarter, since we surely do not get one from the weeds who may die on the driveways and walking paths and gardens of today, but whose progeny will surely persist, and yes, thrive, in a world where most Weed War Combatants simply lack the time or strategy or resolve (or healthy enough backs, but that’s another essay…) to carry on the good, and glorious, and never-ending fight.

***

The purpose toward which all weeding yearns…

***

***

Check out this blog’s public page on Facebook for 1-minute snippets of wisdom and other musings from the world’s great thinkers and artists, accompanied by lovely photography.
http://www.facebook.com/TraversingBlog

Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
 https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: larry@rosefoto.com

All weed and garden photos by Andrew Hidas  https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewhidas/

 

14 comments to Weeding As a Way of Life

  • mary graves  says:

    This is spot on Andrew! I cannot argue and must go out and weed! Thx for the lesson. I am enjoying the song right now
    hugs
    M

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I really enjoyed the song too and was very happy to find it, Mary. Good luck in hitting that hillside! :-)

  • Al  says:

    Delightful weed read, fellow traveler on the never ending quest for a tidier yard. I’ve come to admire these pesky plants, especially when I see them growing on artificial turf cleverly installed by neighbors to save water and reduce maintenance. Weeds will have their way. They inspire me with their tenacity. They are my role models. But in my yard, they are GOING DOWN!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Strikes me as exactly the right approach, Al. Compassion and understanding…but no mercy!

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Weeds are a bitch. Plain and simple. Here in Texas, like North Carolina, the humidity is 100 and the “feel like” temp is also 100, even during a hurricane. Great for weeds & mosquitos. By the way, since I mentioned mosquitos (TX state “bird”), I found it interesting that the Astros’ AAA ball club in Sugar Land, a suburb of Houston, are called the Skeeters. Who names their team after a carrier of the West Nile Virus? Only in Texas. Back to the weeds. As far as Rounbup is concerned, it’s a no go here in my Houston home & this is rodeo central. I don’t use Roundup for two reasons. First, it’s as toxic as CPAC’s annual powwow. Second, our Schnauzer would convince herself that it improves the taste of gravel & would lick it off like a kid sucking Reddi-wip off a brownie. DIY: try a non-toxic homemade concoction (2 cups of Epsom salt, 1/4 of a cup of the cheapest dish detergent and a gallon of vinegar) or even better a six pack of 1969 Thunderbird, which during the 60s gave rise to that memorable jingle…”What’s the word/Thunderbird/What’s the Price?/Thirty twice” Now, if the vinegar mixture or Thunderbird don’t work, try muriatic acid. Now and then I pour a little of it in my pool to regulate the Ph level. One morning, I accidentally spilled a cup of it on the pool’s concrete walkway. An unlucky weed somehow found a way to grow up through the cracks in the concrete in the exact spot where the acid fell. Its dying words were “Damn, wrong place wrong time!” It actually began smoking like a Hindu funeral pyre. Incidentally, it turned the concrete yellow. Probably acid is a little extreme. It’s kinda’ like washing your mouth out with Clorox to get those teeth pearly white. All of which, gets me back to my main point–weeds are a bitch!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Robert, I had a neighbor one time who urged me to use muriatic acid on my brick patio to give it a nice sheen. Then he started detailing all the things we had to do to prevent our lungs from getting seared, our feet fried as our shoes fell apart, our eyes protected from stray drops & mists that would blind us, and I figured, “Uh, I’m pretty happy with the color of these bricks already…”

      Thanks, though! :-)

  • Mary  says:

    Worthy of note is that when the public was finally given the green light to re-enter Duke Gardens in June it was to discover that previously immaculately maintained space choked with weeds! The safety precautions had extended to the legions of volunteers that serve so diligently to support the work of the employees, and their work obviously includes a LOT of weeding.

    It was a worthy lesson. So many times we hold our personal lives up to impossible standards that we refuse to realize are created and sustained by copious amounts of behind-the-scenes time, money and effort. It is exciting to learn and to be inspired! It is NOT exciting to feel disparaged and frustrated when hard work doesn’t look like it “should”. Cooking shows have sous chefs that prep the food and scrub the pans; immaculate homes often reflect not the virtues of the inhabitants but the diligence of a house cleaner (and the gigantic financial success of individual credit claiming CEOs are often built on the backs of legions of lowly paid workers). Feeling bad that your personal, homespun efforts may pale in comparison is of course the very nature of comparisons! and better probably to be mindful of the whole picture, not just the finished product.

    Probably one hallmark of a work of art is that it appears to have arrived in front of us effortlessly, and yet so much more richly wonderful to appreciate the inherent hours of work, experience and craft….and also to understand that on a personal scale “doing a little every day” is equally heroic. Life is just as tenacious and demanding as those weeds, and to keep showing up, to work together (thank you, thank you! Weed Abatement Aficionado) to offer beauty, sustenance and respite in the face of the chaos and mess is the real challenge, the real success.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      All the work that goes on in back rooms and basements and vineyard rows and weed patches that make the the world functional and even beautiful and transcendent is a topic so fraught that I don’t think I can add anything to your eloquent musings here, Mary. Though I did find myself thinking, “Hmmm, they need weeding help at Duke Gardens?” Followed by, “Are you out of your ever-lovin’ mind, Andrew?”

  • Marilyn  says:

    Just ask Hank!! Loved this Andrew – I’m the weeder (for the most part) here at Chez Demerius.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      WEEDERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE! We need to form a union, Marilyn! First order of business: A health plan that includes chiropractic…

  • Harriet  says:

    I so enjoyed this and I love the song. When I was in Davidson the other day I took the grandkids to a school playground. Eloise and Thomas and I pulled some weeds poking through the thick layer of mulch. So I’m that person who pulls them almost anywhere!! It was very satisfying.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Yes, Harriet, it’s a great visceral and aesthetic pleasure to have that whole thing, roots & all, come up in one’s hand without having to dig down & yank for all one is worth, only to sometimes come up with only the grassy top sans the roots. Grrrr! That’s when all committed weeders double down!

      Thankfully, the frequent summer rains here really shower their blessings upon weeders. In California, weeding becomes a really hard job from May, when the rains pretty much stop, until they resume again in earnest in November. (Assuming they ever resume again, which is a whole other story…)

  • cathy smithson  says:

    I love to weed and no one I know can understand the thrill of it or the meditative joy it brings me. Especially in or shortly after raining. Your essay described it all perfectly except my weeding sessions turn from intended minutes to an hour or two before I realize it..

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I’m with you all the way, Cathy, well, wait, maybe not for the whole “hour or two” anymore, ever since I began to realize that my back complains more loudly and insistently to me on those occasions than I complain about the weeds…But as for singing the praises of the rain for us weeding folk, oh yeah, I would gladly join any choir you assemble for that purpose. I’m imagining violins accompanying us, doing that plucky “pizzicato” thing as the perfect and satisfying reflection of our fingers popping those babies right outta the soil!

Leave a Reply