Lost in the Weeds by
100
(137 Stories)

Prompted By Daydreaming

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The view from our new house was just fantastic.  Looking north over the lake, you could see Okanagan Mountain park, watch the snow levels rise and fall with the changing seasons.  The apple orchard below would bloom, leaf out, bear fruit, turn color and then turn into abstract patterns of bare branches .

Little songs would run on endless loops as I concentrated. It was a sort of fuzzy daydream state, where only vague thoughts of work or the future hovered at the periphery, kept at bay by my mantra of the day.  “Doing the garden, pulling the weeks, who could ask for more?”

We were perched on the edge of a steep slope of undeveloped land which was part of the property, full of grasses and shrubs, with a few trees.  The ridge continued west, behind a winery, where a sparse forest of Ponderosa pine and fir created a border between the grassland below and vineyard on the higher ground. Next to the house there was also a cultivated garden put in by the previous owners, with lots of plantings and some lawn.  Each spring it was a surprise to see what grew.

Somehow it fell to me to do the gardening, novice that I was.  Raking, mowing, cutting back the shrubs, weeding, snow shoveling, keeping it neat.  These tasks, with their repetitive physical movements in the fresh air, became oddly calming.  I would submit to the work, not hurrying, just steadily persevering.  Little songs would run on endless loops as I concentrated. It was a sort of fuzzy daydream state, where only vague thoughts of work or the future hovered at the periphery, kept at bay by my mantra of the day.  “Doing the garden, pulling the weeks, who could ask for more?”

Gradually I learned how the plants grew, what needed more vigorous pruning, when different flowers appeared.  My philosophy was:  if it grows and is happy, and I like it, let it be; if it doesn’t grow, it wasn’t meant to be; if I don’t like it, take it out and let the other things grow. I also learned that sometimes, that sweet little ground cover I let grow turned into sticky chickweed.

After a while, I turned my attention to the uncultivated slope, clearing out brush under the high deck where land had been disturbed from the house construction.   Wearing work boots and carrying a big brown paper leaf bag, I worked my way ever further down the slope, pulling out knapweed and dalmation toadflax, cheat grass and scrawny weeds.  The more distant from the house, the fewer invasive species, the richer the soil.  In fact, what looked like scrubby grassland was a cornucopia of beautiful native plants— blue wheat bunchgrass, old man’s beard, blue flax, death camus, coyote brush, mariposa lily, yarrow, moss, the rare columbine.  I tried not to disturb it by tromping through, and just smiled in appreciation when the arrowleaf balsam root bloomed into its bright yellow flowers next to the delicate white blossoms of the saskatoon bushes in the spring.

I worked my way back along the edge, towards the pines, hauling away yessir, yessir, many bags full of weeds. It was most important to get to them in the spring, when the soil was still moist and before the weeds seeded.  I spent hours perched precariously at the top of the slope disentangling cheat grass from the roots of my favorite plants, to the steady chant of “free the bunch grass!”, “free the blue flax”.

When there were too many stairs and it was too hard to stay in that house, we moved.  It had been fifteen years with many, many, many hours mindlessly humming and tending to the land.  Looking at the results of all that work, I had to give a rueful laugh, because I don’t think most people could tell the difference between the before and after.  But I could.  The grasslands might seem like just a bunch of weeds, but it did my heart good to see the beauty of those thriving native plants which, after so many hours of dreamlike communing, had become my friends.

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a beautiful meditation on the mind-calming effects of the hard work of gardening (if this could truly be called gardening, as you were returning nature to its natural state). I love the little ditties that ran through your mind, indeed, like mantras. I heard snippets of a show on NPR yesterday about doing just what you were doing – returning gardens to their natural state (there is a name for this which slips my mind). They talked about a more urban setting where the manicured grass was pulled up and nature (not weeds) was allowed, carefully, to flourish, and how fulfilling it was, better for the soil, hardier, native plants, fire-resistant. A better way to care for the planet.

    Your photos tell the tale and are, indeed, lovely.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I would have liked to have heard that NPR program, and know what the name is for what I was doing…it’s always good to hear about similar experiences. It is certainly a trend to forsake lawns and put in native plants, particularly in drought-prone areas. It also helps attract butterflies and birds.

  2. Thanx for your lovely description of your gardening and it’s dream-like quality Khati.

    Altho I don’t think of myself as either spiritual or green-thumbed, I did find the 10 years or so I had a garden plot and grew veggies to be an unexpectedly spiritual endeavor. I never seemed to mind the hours I spend planting and weeding in a hot sun, and tomatoes have never tasted so good!
    https://www.myretrospect.com/stories/wisdom-in-the-weeds/

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Well we share several things—I don’t think of myself as particularly spiritual or green-thumbed but found great sense of connection outside with the plants. I imagined a common thread with all the ancestors living off the land, which of course we ultimately still do though mechanization and supermarkets may mask it. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience direct contact with the natural world.

  3. Dear Khati:
    You always write with such clear and welcoming details.
    As I read your account, I thought of my daughter who received her Master
    s degree in economics at UBC, and my trips to visit here there and on Victoria Island. She will now replicate your experience while she clears and then plants the 40 acres on her farm in Scandia, Mn. She will build a corral for the horses, a garden for herself and the community, a dock on her lake for the pontoon and kayak, and restore the 1850s Swedish home stead.

    One day, she can write a memory of her daydream for a rural home and property.
    a

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Sounds like your daughter is in for a grand adventure (much more ambitious than mine) one can only undertake while still young and strong, and lucky you get to visit. Maybe she got some of her independence and love of challenge from her dad. I hope she does write about her experiences too.

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    Manual labor can indeed lead to a zen-like flow state, or at least relaxation. It also often has the bonus of providing a sense of concrete and not-too-delayed sense of accomplishment. Too many occupations involve mental gymnastics or paper-shuffling to the exclusion of actually seeing that you have done something. I loved planning research, building and troubleshooting the apparatus etc, to the extent that I was often called upon for assistance by other grad students with technical issues in their research. But actually DOING the research, analyzing the data etc was mental torture for me.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      You describe the rewards of manual labor well (when it is not simply drudgery). Your comment about the research reminded me of my fascination with cosmology but lack of appetite for analyzing spectra. I appreciate the fact that there are so many different talents in the world that I do not possess.

  5. Jim Willis says:

    What a visual telling of the role gardening has played in our life, Khati, and how it can be life-affirming. Thanks much for sharing and doing it so well.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      It sounds as if you have some gardening experience too. There is something very elemental about it that I only learned as an adult, never having gardened as a child, and I wish everyone could grow up knowing the earth better.

  6. Friends with plants – I will be an aphid in my next live so let me thank you now.

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