Personally, I hate weeding! It’s tedious. It’s time consuming. It’s tiring. It’s never-ending. Absolutely. Never-ending.
I would much rather harness myself to a weed whacker, clearing great swaths of wilderness with every swing to my left, with every swing to my right, and with every step thrust frontward as I charge ahead to tame the untamable. I reckon a weed whacker is a reckoning force.
Yet, some folks (so I have been told) actually enjoy weeding. Apparently, they like to pull up weeds, one by one by one. Apparently, they never grow tired or weary of pulling up weeds, one by one by one. Their mantra? You guessed it: “One by one.”
My late partner, Allen, was one of those folks. He liked pulling up weeds and did so with the same care and precision that he used as a surgical technologist.
He would plan his weed work a week in advance. The conversation below shows how it all came to pass. I see no reason to say who’s saying what. The differing approaches to weeding–mine and Allen’s–are abundantly clear without naming either of us and without calling either of us names.
“Thank God! The weekend is nearly here. What would you like to do on Saturday?”
“How about doing something fun? You really want to weed?”
“Yes. Weed. I just need some quiet time.”
“Well, okay. Sure. While you weed, I’ll weed whack. We’ll get a lot of yard work done.”
On reflection, I’m not certain that my part of the bargain provided quiet, especially since we usually played Gospel music in the background, full volume, while we worked in the yard. And when the music stopped, no problem. I would fill in by singing at full throttle the handful of words that I knew from some Gospel song that I liked, over and over and over and always painfully off key, though never deliberately so. Soon thereafter, Allen would slip inside and slip back out again, protected fully by his smartphone and earbuds. He never said a word.
But, hey. I’m no dummy. He made his point loud and clear. Quietly. Immediately. I got it. But since he was now listening to his own music with his own earbuds stuffed into his own ears, I just kept right on singing, as loudly and as off key as ever. It made me feel good. Besides, I take the Bible literally when it says, “Make a joyful noise.” And, equally important, I take folklore seriously, too: I have always heard that making noise while doing yard work keeps snakes away! So there! Even if indirectly, Allen still reaped the benefits of my singing: all the snakes disappeared into the woods, all except for the black snake that loved my off-key singing and slithered all around the yard to stay close to me, but that’s copy for a future post.
When it came to weeding, it was no big deal that Allen and I listened to different music while applying different weeding methods. Working together, we always accomplished a lot within four or five hours.
I mowed down an acre or so, and I was covered from head to toe with vestiges of grass and leaves and dust. But, hey! I got my weekly weed whacking joy.
Allen removed every single, solitary weed from an established flower bed, perhaps 20 feet by 15 feet, and, sometimes even refreshed the mulch. He would be drenched in perspiration, with muddy jeans from butt to hem. But, hey! He got his weekly weeding joy.
Inevitably, as we admired what we had achieved individually and collectively, we would mutually agree to a quick shower (individually, not collectively) and a backroad drive (collectively, not individually) to a farmers’ market, followed by lunch!
The after-joy of weeding and weed whacking meant as much to us (collectively and individually) as the actual joy itself.
Since Allen’s death, though, I have often wondered what those treasured weeding days meant…to him. What was it that he experienced deep down inside?
Recently, I decided to re-create, as nearly as possible, one of Allen’s typical Saturday weeding days.
I won’t bore you with all the pre-weeding details, like getting up at 4am, reading the New York Times and Washington Post, both online, cup of coffee in hand.
Or, having leftovers for breakfast, from dinner the night before.
Or, putting on bluejeans and a favorite flannel shirt–plaid, with sleeves far too short–and always a baseball cap from somewhere memorable like Geneva Falls, NY.
And I’ll not mention heading out to start weeding almost always at exactly 7:30am.
Those were the things that Allen did. So I’ll skip right over all those details and commence with Allen’s weeding tools.
A black plastic yard bag, for sitting and kneeling. An old dull kitchen knife for cutting out the roots of each weed. And a yard basket for collecting the weeds and their roots. And, yes: no gloves. He liked his fingers and hands to be one with the soil.
That was it. A simpler array of tools for such a noble task cannot be imagined.
Sometimes, as he weeded, it was as if he were descending into the earth that he tended, rising up from time to time, carrying to the compost pile the red yard basket filled to the brim with weeds and their roots. And so the cycle continued–descending, rising, and carrying–until he was done for the day.
That was it. A simpler approach to such a noble task cannot be imagined.
On my appointed day for re-enacting Allen’s day of weeding, I did not need to think about method or tools or pre-weeding activities. All those were so ingrained in my memory, my heart, and my soul that everything fell into place naturally.
My morning–this past Saturday, in fact–started with cool temps in the mid fifties, gradually warming to the upper seventies. A mix of clouds and sun. A gentle breeze. Low humidity. Just right.
As soon as I positioned myself with intentionality on my black plastic bag, I felt grounded–no pun intended. I knew that I had sat down exactly where I chose to sit. I knew that I had no where else that I wanted to be. I knew that I had no where else that I wanted to go. “In the moment” vibrated with new meaning.
And then I felt totally in control. I knew that I could do as much or as little as I chose to do. I knew that I need move no further in any direction than the limits of my reach. Suddenly, I no longer felt overwhelmed by the enormity of totality. I could sit right where I sat, forever and forever and forever, and work my own postage stamp of mountain earth.
To my surprise–and, again, with no pun intended–I could smell the coffee that my neighbor higher up on the mountain was brewing, and I could nearly taste the bacon that he was frying. Closer to home, I could smell the lilac in my upper yard, just beginning to perfume the air, but even now its purply fragrance was so heavy that it nearly took my breath away.
To my great surprise, I could hear tractor trailers racing seventy miles an hour up and down the interstate, their roaring engines muffled to a monotonous drone by ten miles or so of puffy clouds and winding river. Closer still, I could hear the chirping of robins, never alone, always calling one to the other, always with the other returning the song.
And I could hear and feel the rustle of dry decay as my hands grabbed and bagged leaves from yesteryear. I could even hear the blue buzz of a horse fly as it circled my head, and, more joyous by far, the whir of a ruby-throated hummingbird–my first of the season–as it helicoptered all around me with quizzical uncertainty, darting deliberately, continuing to hover nearby, singing its high-pitched chips.
To my greater surprise, I started seeing things at the granular level. The grit in the soil. The veins in the weeds. The spidery whiteness of roots. The leaves and blooms on nearby plants. The house looming ever so large above my grounded perspective. The trees towering above the house. The clouds and sky arching over all, including me.
To my greatest surprise, one hour slipped into two. Two melted into three. Three faded into four. Four, into forever.
By then, the sharp, cutting edge of my morning angst had become as smooth as well-worn marble stairs.
By then, my hope had heightened beyond my reach, stretching as far into the future as my senses could carry me.
By then, I had experienced deep down in the inner recesses of my soul what Allen had experienced in his.
By then, I knew the joy of weeding.
What an almost ethereal experience! I didn’t expect you, an extrovert, to have such a reaction to and a connection with this approach to weeding (fully anticipating the approach you outline earlier with your full vocals–which I must hear one day–and continual movement). Is this a new standard or one you will revisit periodically, intertwined with your usual routine?
It’s good to know that I can surprise folks, still!
This was indeed an ethereal experience, one that I look forward to repeating. It will not, however, be a weekly repetition since I must now do both the weeding and the weed whacking! Perhaps I will alternate weeks. Or, perhaps, I will add a mid-week weeding session.
Thanks for your comment!
As always, Brent, thank you for sharing such inspiring and reflective words.
Thank YOU! It’s always good to know that my posts inspire!
This was so delightful to read that I hardly know how to comment.
So I’ll talk about my mother. We loved to work together, but we had different rhythms. She was wham, bang, get ‘er done. She sometimes broke things as she worked, but she didn’t mind because she knew she could fix them. (She never did, though.)
I worked gently, in another room or area of the yard, being careful not to scratch, not to break, not to drop. Not to flinch when I heard a worrisome crash.
We’d meet up every hour or so to rest and catch up on gossip and plans. We always had a terrific time. Much got accomplished in both of our spheres. Except repairs. Honest to goodness, as much as I miss my mother I still sigh over the breakages.
She knew all the bird calls. I knew only the whippoorwill, which I no longer hear in my neck of the woods, but this morning as I was clearing out my sun porch I watched a blue jay sing, and knew that I would now recognize his song forever.
And just now, as I was writing this comment, I looked out my garden window and saw a bluebird where the blue jay had perched earlier. I’ve never seen a bluebird in my backyard before. I watched until he quietly flew away.
It can only have been my mother saying hello. I have chills running up my spine.
Your comments thrill me to the core of my being!
I Iove the way that you and your mother worked together, though differently.
Isn’t it wonderful how work brings people together? I am reminded of a Robert Frost line in one of his poems, “‘All men work together,’ I said within my heart, ‘Whether they work together or apart.'”
And how wonderful that your mother sent a bluebird to share her hello! It will be a moment–a space in time–that you will always remember…and treasure!
Again, thank you for your rich reflections!
I am always impressed (and dismayed) by the cleverness of weeds. How can they disguise themselves as a cone flower, or evening primrose, or Shasta daisy, or…. ? How do they know which camouflage to wear as they sprout next to a plant?
They really do! But, it is with weeds as it is with people: a disguise can only last for so long. Eventually, the true essence shows!
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