Weeding, Without and Within

Weeding is one of those chores that everyone loves to complain about, but the process is both necessary and fulfilling, whether working in a garden or one’s life.

This year we’re dealing with one and a half acres that have been neglected for at least seven years (according to the neighbor). The back acre is my husband’s territory: he’s cut down mesquite, dug up yucca, slashed prickly pears and managed to round up the trash left by previous owners. There was definitely a garden and maybe a pecan orchard at one time – we’ve found remnants of an irrigation system – but the desert doesn’t need much encouragement to move back in when allowed. As long as we can keep the sparse grasses and weeds down for fire prevention, we’re content.

picture of a goat head weed
A goat head weed next to a Bermuda grass runner

It’s the front yard that has had me cowed. Subtract the buildings and parking, and there is still almost one third of an acre that should be nice, lush lawn. Instead, roughly one third is Bermuda grass with some weeds, one third half-and-half, and the rest weeds with the occasional sprig of Bermuda trying to hang on.

Belatedly starting to do my job despite the heat, I’ve rediscovered how satisfying weeding can be. Working from my knees, I take a two foot by 3 foot section of ground and begin pulling up the goat heads (Tribulus terrestris). There are plenty of other weeds, too, but I like to start with the most obnoxious. One nice thing about weeding is instant gratification: you can see the results within a few minutes.

Soon I’m in a rhythm, focused, methodical and intent on pulling up as many weeds as I can. Without an audio book or music in my ears, it becomes a working meditation. The arthritis pain in my fingers fades from consciousness, as does the stiffness in my back and bruised knees. It’s just me and the weeds, and the weeds are on their way out.

It’s at this point, when the world is narrowed to a small patch of ground, that my mind sees the patterns. There are weeds in my life that need pulling, too. If I try to tackle them all at once, the prospect is overwhelming, and I shrink away from the very thought. But a small patch at a time – I can handle that.

Like my long-neglected yard, some weeds have been there for a long time. Thoughts such as, “Creativity is just for fun,” or “Dreams aren’t serious and work must come first,” are deep-rooted in my childhood. Even when I think I’ve finally pulled up the last one, I’ll find another tendril hiding in the next patch, or a seedling will show up unexpectedly.

Weeding is seasonal. Goat heads prefer the heat of late spring and summer. Foxtail grass likes winter and spring. Here in west Texas, dandelions grow pretty much year-round. And so go my personal weeds. Some I’ve eradicated over the years. Some crop up new as circumstances and relationships change. Others I’ve learned to reclassify, perhaps as wildflowers, or maybe just not important enough to spend my time and energy on. (See my post On Weeds and Wildflowers for more on this.) Regardless, if I want to thrive, I need to tackle them as they come up: methodically, consistently, without panic or guilt.

After six years in our last place, you could walk barefoot in our yard. Sure, the goat heads would come in on shoes and dog paws, but once the initial work was done, upkeep was simple. So I know it is possible. It will take three plus years of pulling, watering, using pre-emerge weed killer and patience, and the whole 1-1/2 acres won’t ever be clear, but we’ll be able to walk the main yard without bringing stickers of all sorts into the house.

partly weeded lawn
Progress! Pity the weeds are greener than the grass.

My personal weed patch isn’t as bad as it was six years — or especially twenty years — ago. Yes, it’s frustrating when I feel like I’m fighting the same thoughts, attitudes and habits as before. But now I’m looking at them from a different side, the sun is shining from a different angle, so I’m seeing things I couldn’t see before. There’s more grass than weeds now. And the deep-rooted guys are rare, replaced by seedlings much easier to pull out.

It’s worth the work; I’ve learned that. I’ve even managed to work in some flowers and a rose bush here and there in my internal garden. Some of the reclassified “weeds” have revealed themselves as precious wildflowers with their own beauty and strength.

Oh, I’ll still complain about weeds and weeding. Sweat in the eyes, bruised knees, aching back and stiff fingers guarantee that! But I’ll do it anyway. Smelling the loose dirt, watching the bugs crawl, hearing the muffled tear of roots releasing their hold — these small experiences manage to put the big issues in my life into perspective. Even as I stand and stretch to survey what I’ve accomplished, inside I wake from my meditation, calm with the knowledge that I’ve come far and have the strength to keep going. And I rather like what I’m becoming.

little boy in garden with few weeds
Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

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