“To be a gardener, it isn’t enough to love flowers; one must hate weeds.” – Anon.
I’m no gardener, and find flowers to be only so-so, but I do hate weeds.
In the trunk of my car I keep a hoe and a pair of work gloves. The other day, I was talking to a friend in a restaurant parking lot after a meal. I kept getting distracted and finally told him to wait a moment while I got the gloves and pulled up an especially egregious thistle sticking up through asphalt nearby.
He thought it was odd, and I agreed, but the weed wasn’t going to pull itself. (Or if it did, that would be odder.)
I’ve devoted a good many lunch breaks to clearing the path between where I park my car and the door to the office so I don’t have to step over any stickers. That turned into clearing the parking lot, then the alley, then the block. Then I was out of weeds and summer. Now the area is better populated and kept up. Which is fine, but unsatisfying.
Last year there were two tumbleweeds, still alive and bigger than I was. Too big to fit in the garbage without being chopped up first, and heavy to carry. I considered bringing a wheelbarrow but realized that would be going too far. Plus, I couldn’t get the darn thing to fit in my car.
I come by it honestly. My father’s side of the family, especially. For my great-uncles, the Johnson brothers, standing outside chatting involved pocketknives pulled out to cut the stems off nearby plants growing out of cracks and curbs. Johnson sisters were the same, but without knives.
Once, a girl from work saw me hacking as she left for the day and asked quite naturally why I didn’t just spray them with weed killer. I tried to explain that it wouldn’t have the same effect as physically uprooting or otherwise destroying a weed with nothing but muscle and mechanical advantage. I threw the weeds away, anyhow, I said. But, in fact, I’d never considered anything else.
There’s something intensely attractive in the struggle, vaguely cosmic, even.
“We don’t try because victory is easy, likely or even possible,” say the forces of good, “We do it because defeat is as intolerable as it is inevitable.”
More weeds will always grow, if not in this season than in the next. If we don’t destroy them, they’ll destroy our works. Eventually – 10 years, 50, 1,000 – they will destroy it. All our sweat and efforts will come to nothing, eventually. But until eventually arrives, we have our small victories to enjoy and for others to enjoy. To leave our mark on the world, even if it’s drawing lines in the dirt.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Die when I may, I want it said by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”
My great-aunt Bernice died at the age of 93, a gardener always. On the way to the cemetery, my dad saw weeds lining the side of the road and joked that she obviously hadn’t been by this way in a while.
“Where there were weeds, I hadn’t been lately.”
That, too, would make a fine epitaph.