Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Unlikely Tenacity of Weeds

Backyard existentialism.

The Unlikely Tenacity of Weeds

I rarely mow my lawn. No need to. The relentless sun, the lack of rain. The weeds have an easier time of it than the grass, dandelions, bull thistle, henbit, they grow faster, are more hearty. No bother, the weeds are easy to control, and colorful. I do not use poisons or herbicides. I pluck them by the roots, or ask my daughters to pick them, a penny a stem. I feel no need to eradicate them. I like bio-diversity. We maintain a cautious truce.

I fight a losing battle with the junk trees, the alley trees, the ones that go by the giddily euphemistic term “paradise tree.” They are voracious, predatory, tenacious. Nothing can be done to eradicate them, and only with great effort can they be fought to a stalemate. So. I fight. Weekly. If I do not they will take over the front yard. I stoop to pull them out by their shallow roots, foot by foot, limb by limb, I stoop until my back cries in pain, stoop knowing they will be back in one more week, only to be battled again.

I rented a roto-tiller and plowed under a large section of yard this spring, in order to plant a garden at the side of the house, and pulled out a large swath of the tree’s root system, the roots shallow, misshapen, bulbous as fetuses. I piled them in a unlikely tangle on the sidewalk; they look like something found in a carnival sideshow bell jar. I wondered at the time, and continue to wonder often, why weeds have not taken over the world, with their efficiency, their unstoppable energy. It is a wonder there is room for other life to thrive. But other life does thrive, I only have to look around me to see it to see the improbable flowers mixed in the weeds, the wild roses, the tulips, the day lilies. Most I do not know the names of. This house is over a hundred years old, with perhaps a dozen owners, each with their own garden, their own floral tastes, the seeds now mixing through one century and into the next, intermingling, hopelessly tangled, a history told in a confusion of perennials.

I finish plucking trees from the front yard, I turn the wheelbarrow of treelets around and head for the compost heap. So much wasted energy, but the trees make for good compost fodder, so perhaps it is not wasted at all. Perhaps nothing is wasted. My hands smell of the sap, an unpleasant cloying scent that will not easily leave the skin. It is hot. I am irritable. My back hurts. I stop at the garden by the side of the house to turn on the faucet, pull the hose toward the dry cracked garden earth, it catches on an errant stump, I flip the hose and watch the wave travel the length of it, leap lightly over the stump to freedom. In some way this small victory me feel better, as does the feel of cool water on my hands, my feet my shins. I move to the clutter of the back yard. Naked muddy abandoned dolls. Sports equipment, water toys. Scooters. And yes, this is a family of four, but we have seven bikes, seven, four current bikes, two outgrown but still used by neighbor kids or when one of the main bikes gets a flat, one still too large but bought to be grown into, like shoes, like clothes, like college funds. I disentangle the wheels and handlebars and kickstands, put them away behind the shed one by one. The dolls I leave in a disturbing heap by the back door for my daughters to pick through. So much broken, so much left behind. I lug all the sports equipment, the water toys into the shed, bats and balls and rings and racquets, pools and tubes and wiggly water worms. Bats are bent, balls discolored and lopsided, the tubes and pools leaking air the moment they are filled with air.

I pick my way out to the compost heap. At our previous house I built a compost bin that was over-full mere weeks after building it, and so built the one in this house extra large so as to accommodate us and still find it is nearly full. So much waste, so much discarded, so much left behind, and yet so much remains, we are overfull. Shoes, clothes, college funds. I dump the trees into the heap, then shovel the bottom of the heap toward the top, cycling the trees in with the leaves, the weeds, the eggshells, the coffee grounds, all of this will go into the garden next Spring; some will cycle back into the heap as leaves and vines and the chopped ends of withered vegetables. Perhaps nothing is wasted. I look back across the back yard, the lawn, the side garden, bursting with life. Eggshells, baseball bats, discarded dolls, tangled bikes. Overfull. So much discarded yet so much remains, too much, this stubborn gift of life, this refusal to hew to boundaries, this ridiculous prodigal giving, the unlikely tenacity of weeds.


Hilary said...

Such is life in a compostable nutshell. Nicely written. :)

slommler said...

Well said!! We have been getting some evening rains and the weeds have exploded. It looks like I had never pulled them weeks before. Sigh!!!!

Maggie said...

It takes a certain talent to make poetry of compost.

"prodigal giving" - how apt

Yes. I love this. I need to re-read it. To bask in the language.

Laurita said...

I love how you've written this. I can't imagine the wilderness of my garden after two weeks of my absence...

Clowncar said...

Thanks Hil. It's straight reportage, pretty much. Wrote it in my head as I puttered around the yard one Saturday.

Sue Ann, weeds are one thing, those damn paradise trees another. I'm surprised they aren't growing on the moon.

Thank you Maggie. Not easy to wring prose from garbage.

Laurita, it a continuing battle. Two weeks is a lifetime for a lawn - they're like dog years.

Dianne said...

this is so well written
it creates images as I read

congrats on POTW

Poet in Residence said...

One man's flower is another man's weed. I like weeds. The more the merrier. Butterflies seem to like them too.
A weed is only a flower in the wrong place, somebody once said.