Today I spent an hour in the backyard, weeding. We’d gotten some rain, so the soil was moist, making it a prime weeding opportunity. As I bent over, trying to use my garden tool to find the roots of the weeds and pop them out of the ground — because you always want to get the root, of course — I cursed mightily at the humidity, and my aching back, and mostly at the unsightly weeds themselves.
And then I wondered — is there any living thing more reviled, more roundly cursed, more uniformly despised by one and all than a Midwestern weed?
Consider this awful dandelion that had taken root in our garden beds. It’s an exceptionally ugly plant, with its broad, sharp leaves that look like the blade of a rusty hacksaw. I first noticed it last weekend but didn’t get to it until today, and in the intervening week it spread like a fungus to cover more territory. It’s a tenacious plant, too, hugging the ground and stubbornly resisting all efforts to pull it out by the roots and kill it once and for all. After some careful searching I found the root and gently pulled it whole from the damp soil. I felt a glowing sense of accomplishment as I removed the unsightly blemish from the beds, dropped the weed and its roots into a lawn refuse bag, and then moved on to do battle with the thistles, chickweed, mallow, and other thorny, repulsive broadleaf invaders trying to ruin my garden and yard.
I paused for a moment, though, to straighten up my creaking back and ponder the poor weed. It doesn’t know it’s hated and unwanted, I realized — it’s just trying to survive as best it can, wherever it can. Perhaps, I thought, there is value in weeds? Perhaps they provide the sharp contrast that allows us to better appreciate the beauty of flowers and boxwoods and hostas? Perhaps their presence makes us more industrious, by incentivizing us to go out in the fresh air and do some productive work. Perhaps the weed, rather than being reflexively hated, should be pitied . . . and even admired?
Nah! It’s weeds we’re talking about, and I would happily do without them. So I moved on and thrust my garden tool into the ground at the base of the next offender, found the root, and pulled it out with relish.