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WEEDS DON’T TAKE VACATIONS
The weather map above shows a front stalled to our west which has actually been backing up to the west, as ripples of low pressure ride up along its edge to the north. Rather than sweeping out to sea, and bathing us in dry, crisp, clear winds from Canada, the front has been beaten back west by a building Bermuda high, which is pumping juicy tropical air north from Florida.
Usually I like weeding. I know, it’s weird, but it is something I’ve done since I was a kid under ten and used to walk about my neighborhood ringing doorbells and asking suburban mothers if they had odd jobs they wanted done. All through my long successful career being unsuccessful, (for who would trust an artist who obeyed the standards that lead to modern success?) I haven’t made a penny with writing, and have had to fall back on all sorts of short-term employment, which often included spells “landscaping,” which often is another word for “weeding.”
However I don’t like weeding when it is so wet that you can’t shake the dirt from the roots of the weed. You pull up a sort of lollypop of brown glop, and if you shake it you splatter yourself. One weed is bad enough, but a hundred weeds covers you with several coats of brown paint called “mud.” If at all possible I’ll postpone weeding until the sun comes out.
But the weeds don’t wait. In fact they love the rain. Not only do existing weeds double in size overnight, but areas you had weed-free turn out to have seeds hidden in the dirt, a secret underground resistance movement opposed to a tidy garden, just waiting for your back to be turned.
I own a bright yellow pair of rubber fisherman’s pants that come right up to my chest, and I eventually put those on, because after weeding I could just spray them down with the garden hose and turn them from brown back to yellow. I had to do it, because day after day was warm, muggy, and showery.
However it was so wet that, (except for a few days when the sun burst through and we had a hot spell,) the weeds hardly minded being pulled. Rather than withering they just put down new roots. (I sure wish my broccoli were so difficult to kill, when I transplant.)
Strangely, once it truly became a battle, I found myself enjoying myself again. “Without battle life is a drag.” However my wife does not share my joy in wallowing about in the dirt and mud and swarms of mosquitoes, and attempted to get me interested in more sophisticated things involving restaurants and movies. It’s a real bother, for they would not allow me to even approach the door without changing my clothes , and I have to wash and do all that civilized stuff.
Now she wants to go away for two days to visit some close friends. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? Does she have any idea what the garden will look like if I give those weeds a two-day head start? Weeds don’t take vacations.
I found myself pouting and feeling very misunderstood, as I weeded in a break between showers of rain today. (We’ve actually been lucky, for there are flash flood warnings to our east, west, and north, and even in some places in Massachusetts to our south, but we’ve been between the biggest downpours.) Ignoring the fact the whole family came by to help me weed last weekend, (a belated Father’s Day gift,) I grouched quietly to myself like Rodney Dangerfield about how everyone likes my broccoli but no one respects my effort.
It is sort of like being a great writer. No one wants to hang out with you when you are covered in mud (or manure or cannery-guts or dishwasher soap,) but one of these days I’ll be famous, and then they’ll all come rushing up and call me old buddy old pal. But I’ll rear up and say I never knew them. Then they’ll be sorry. Only, in the case of a garden, it isn’t a million-seller. It is broccoli. But I’ll be like “The Little Red Hen,” and will tell them they can drool all they want, I’m scoffing down the whole bunch myself, (steamed, and dripping with butter…)
Around about this point a small child comes wandering into the garden from the Childcare to ask me, “Mr. Shaw, why are you making those mean faces at the broccoli?” It snaps me out of it, or at least snaps the strings of my violins of self-pity.
Little kids always change my mood. Maybe it is because they like getting all muddy, and appreciate a muddy old man in a way his wife can’t. After this particular child left, my mood was lifted from the mud to a recollection of my Grandfather.
He and my grandmother decided to get married in second grade, when they were eight. Their relationship lasted eighty-two years. However, in his marriage, it was my grandmother who liked to garden, and can, and pickle crock-pots of herring in a steamy kitchen. He tended to be dapper, and when he went clamming on mudflats he somehow remained with the mud exactly three-quarters of the way up his boots, with only a spot or two on his natty outfit.
His workbench always was swept clean of sawdust with every tool on its proper hook, while my Dad (and myself) had better things to do than be tidy. So my mind may have gravitated to him because I was wondering how to deal with the muddy side of myself, and I figured he might have some advise on how to deal with people who were sometimes too industrious to be neat.
Strangely, as I weeded thinking of him, I could not think of a word he had to say on the subject of how to deal with untidy people, and instead recalled him talking of a rainy summer.
As a child, the way he stressed the wet summer seemed odd to me. So a summer was rainy? So what? However he was trying to impress upon me that it was the summer before the 1938 hurricane.
I sat back on my haunches and looked around at the vividly emerald and sodden landscape, and found myself wondering if this might be the year New England gets “The Big One.” (Just as California awaits an earthquake, New England awaits a hurricane.)
If you look at the above map you can see the juicy air as a stream of clouds coming up from the birthing grounds of hurricanes and over Florida and up to us. A hurricane is on the Pacific side of Mexico, but the Atlantic side looks fairly innocent, until you notice that tropical wave approaching the bottom of the stream of clouds from the east. If something brewed up, it would be an early storm, but it isn’t too early for hurricanes. We’ve had the remnants of a tropical storm pass out to sea already, and in 1996 Bertha hit us on July 13, It had lost a lot of its punch after crashing into the Carolinas, but if it had come north sixty miles further east, and had sped up 24 hours earlier, it might have been a “Big One.”
A hurricane like Carol in 1954 can make mincemeat out of a garden. The corn gets laid flat and the leaves of all other plants get shredded.
It is a risk farmers always face. One lousy hailstorm can ruin in five minutes what you’ve worked months to create. Everything gets bashed and bruised, and the only thing that seems untroubled, and to rise unscathed from the ruins, is, of course, the weeds.
A marriage is a different sort of garden. Either that, or Love is as enduring and powerful as a weed, but growing Love takes more work than a weed does. If you do the work, then a good marriage gets stronger, when hit by hurricanes and hailstorms.
In which case, I concluded, I should care less about the weeds and more about my wife. Two-day vacation, here I come!
For if weeds don’t take vacations, then, if I don’t take a vacation, I’m a weed.