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What Weeds Whisper

I love gardening. Well, let's be honest - I love the idea of gardening.

While I do enjoy being outside in my yard on a late spring or overcast summer day, getting my gloved hands in the dirt and seeing the magic of seeds sprouting up, I have yet to go outside to my perfectly groomed garden box area (yeah right) and see a beautiful, full, flowering, green, fruitful garden. I will tell you this is because I have never set up a drip watering system (that's my theory). Or, maybe I just don't have a green thumb, so to speak.

Still, I have spent a lot of time out in the yard, planting flowers, fruits and vegetables, manicuring the lawn and gardens, and pruning fruit trees. And I have spend much more time out there pulling weeds.

Weeds are a nuisance at best and devastating destroyers at worst. As Rita Pelczar reminds us: "These garden invaders compete with your plants for water, nutrients, and light. If left unattended, aggressive weeds can totally overrun a bed, smothering your favorite flowers or vegetables. Some weeds also can give diseases and pests a foothold to spread to your cultivated plants."

Weeds have a rich history of symbolism in culture and literature as well. From Shakespeare to Hawthorne to Moses to Jesus, the symbolism of weeds is abounding.

“ … tis an unweeded garden That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely.” ~ Hamlet, Act I, Scene 2. Here, Shakespeare used weeds to represent neglect, devastation and disorder. In Richard II Shakespeare uses the garden as a metaphor for a nation with the weeds as a metaphor for the disorder of war. Again in King Lear Shakespeare uses weeds to symbolize both the disorder of a nation and the instability and mental deterioration of the individual.

In The Scarlett Letter, Hawthorne uses the symbolism of weeds upon a dead man's grave to represent hidden secrets and unconfessed sins. In the book of Genesis, God tells Adam that in consequence of a choice, the the ground is cursed and would now bring forth thorns and thistles, implying, importantly, that there was a time previous to this statement that there were none.

As Mike Ford suggests: "Weeds have a few common characteristics. They are aggressive, often quicker than useful plants at reproducing and spreading. They steal, robbing the moisture and nutrients from the more desirable plants. Since they are typically fast growing, they eventually steal the sunlight, too, by towering over the good plants. Then they crowd out the tender young shoots, stealing their space.

"In agricultural situations, especially tropical regions, weeds can cause up to a fifty percent reduction in yields. So why not just get rid of them? Easier said than done. A single plant of common ragweed can produce over 3000 seeds. A single pigweed plant produces over 120,000 seeds! And if conditions are not right, some weed seeds can lie dormant for decades, waiting for the right amount of moisture, light and heat before germinating. Studies have shown seeds from several varieties of weeds still able to germinate after ninety years! Add to this that botanists have classified 1,775 species of weeds in America alone, and what do we have? Weeds are a problem that will not go away.

"Any farmer or gardener will verify that one hundred percent control of weeds is impossible. Even aggressive weed haters strive only to manage the problem. A gardener has to watch constantly for them and attack their appearance early."

In the past, weeds have been a source of frustration and exasperation for me as well. How many times have weeds propagated while carefully cultivated crops have shriveled and died in the summer heat? How many weeds have grown up out of cracks in cement and graveled driveways while expensive pots of fertile-soiled flowers have wilted? I used to think that the appearance or presence of weeds meant I was doing something wrong as a gardener. I used to think they were a consequence of some gardening secret I had yet to learn. Then one day, I realized what weeds whisper.

Weeds are the statement- the proof- of that delicate balance between those things in life we can control and those we cannot. They are the characterization of those many parts of life that just pop up, without any intent on our part.

They are to a garden what hair and nails are to a body. They grow and grow without any thought. Just as day after day my husband must shave his face, chin and neck so that he doesn't have a 5 'o clock shadow, or a mustache, or a beard. Just as I must wash and trim my hair and nails as they grow unruly. So will the weeds pop up in my yard. So will unsolicited, annoying, difficult situations, circumstances, and experiences pop up in my life- and yours.

Recognizing this- that as shaving is part of my routine in caring for my body and weeding must be part of my routine of caring for a yard;

that weeds in my yard don't mean I'm not good at gardening but rather mean that setting up a routine to remove the weeds is part of being good at gardening-- has helped me gain a healthier perspective about those difficult, annoying, choking, stealing aspects of life.

Indeed, while weeds pop up without our intent, we can still intentionally act to recognize and remove their choking and suffocating effects. Difficulties in life don't mean that life isn't good, productive and beautiful. They don't constitute failure. They are simply the reality that part of having a good life is finding ways to keep the 'weeds of life' at bay as they appear, and that as we routinely and intentionally recognize and root out the weeds as they begin to grow and threaten to destroy, a beautiful, fruitful life will result despite, and perhaps because of this care & routine . For, as Mike Ford suggests, we can "watch constantly for them and attack their appearance early."

In Christian tradition, it is believed that just as there was a time when there were no thorns or thistles, so a time will come when there will be none again. It is beautiful that in this tradition, weeds whisper hope. While they do tell a tale of the need - in the present - for constant watching and grooming, they remind of a story that supposes they weren't always there and presumes they won't always be.

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