Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Will of Weeds

Towering 17 inches over my pale golden spread of Kentucky Blue, stands a verdant stalk of Queen Anne's Lace.  I confess I am overdue in mowing the lawn, but not 17 inches overdue.  And this wildflower is no shy sprout.  She’s already begun making preparations for her coming-of-age party with the unfurling of a lacy gown of white florets.  It won’t be long before the suitors come a-calling.

The last two strolls John Deere and I took around the yard were mainly for the benefit of non-cultivated species (affectionately known as weeds).  Plantain, clover, and creeping charlie continue to grow lush and green in my sea of toasted turf.  I’m not disappointed in my grass.  How could I blame it for departing into dormancy?  I abandoned any appearance of bravado by escaping into my climate-controlled living room.  No, the grass and I are kindred brothers in our approach to extreme temperatures: retreat!  What I struggle to grasp is how the weeds thrive in the midst of these inhabitable conditions. 

Disappointed by my inability to master the landscape once again, I searched for an excuse - ahem - I mean academic explanation.   And that brought me to evolution. 

To be clear, I am a Creationist.  I believe the whole earth was formed in seven days by the God of the Bible.  If this strikes you as crazy, I assure you that Evolution (with a big E) requires quite a leap of faith itself.  But evolution (note the little e) is a certainty.  This is the concept of change WITHIN a genus.  Not changing from amoeba to lizards to orangutans, but going from one type of orangutan to another: species adapting to their environment. 

There are two main forces of change in plant evolution: humans and nature.  People have been altering rose, daylily, corn, apple, pumpkin, tulilp, grass, maple (need I go on?) DNA for centuries.  We’ve affected them directly through hybridization and indirectly through the selection process.  All the while, weeds have been undergoing a selection process of their own.  In their case, Nature has been calling the shots, and her desirable characteristics are more about opportunism and less about aesthetics. 

While we’ve been selecting for traits such as flavor, color, and scent, Nature has been selecting for survival: seed production and dispersal, accelerated growth rates, drought tolerance, etc.  And so, while our selections take home all the blue ribbons at the county fair, in an agricultural boxing match, the street-smart weeds reign supreme.  The human race is catching on, though.  We’ve done some selection for survival: developing fire-blight resistant crabapples and Round-Up Ready soybeans, for instance.  But the weeds are way ahead of us. 

So what to do?  What chemical, what tool, what cultural practice will inhibit the growth of these dominant species?  The biology of the thing could tie us up in knots.  The fact is that weeds are going to be part of our environment, always.  And although we pull, hoe and spray them, there is a value to their existence.  Gasp!  I know, now you’re SURE I’m crazy, but read on. 

For one thing, where would we be without weeds?  What if we had to plant everything on earth that was growing?  Weeds might not be our first choice for cultivated beds, but I sure prefer walking on them to slogging through mud.  And while I do love a freshly-plowed field, I don’t think I prefer brown to green that much.  How much photosynthetic oxygen would the earth be lacking if weeds were non-existant?  How much topsoil would be lost to wind and rain erosion if not for weeds’ protective cover?  Almost unthinkably, this burr-under-our-saddle has a value.     

From a philosophical point of view, weeds provide daily object lessons.  They remind us that anything beautiful and valuable in this life takes work.  In our families, our careers, our homes, there is an abundance of proverbial weeds that will sprout.  Failure to deal with them is an invitation for takeover.  I hear my generation say, "Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer makes you happy."  That's weedy thinking, my friends.  Anything worth having is going to require some effort.  And while weeding doesn't make me happy, the manicured result certainly does.  No sense of accomplishment is more rewarding than the one that squeezed you the hardest.  So don't let those 17 inch weeds get you down.  They're just God's way of reminding us that the junk in life thrives on neglect.  So get outside, get pulling, and let the weeds make you stronger.  


Casa Mariposa said...

I love Queen Anne's Lace and would leave it there. It might evolve into a cannibalistic vampire plant that will devour itself while you sleep eliminating the need to weed, but I'll pray that it doesn't. It might make things a little weird in the garden.

Casa Mariposa said...

Land's End has some snow boots on sale. PLEASE DON'T BUY THEM!!!

Design to Grow said...

Oh, it's staying there alright. Mowed it off and it's right back to shin height. And thanks for the boot tip: I'm heading over to Land's End right now. : )

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...