A novel and interesting appreciation of Nature.
The other day, my neighbor Richard dropped by to ask me to look after his dog while he went away, and noticed, how could he not, my robust five foot tall thistle plants growing out of my untended octogarden. You see, I was busy with my election campaign in spring and I didn’t have time to put in my garden as planned and so, as I am wont to do, I just let grow whatever wanted to grow there. I only started the garden last year so there wasn’t much going on, but I did have a few perennials such as a few strawberry plants and a big rhubarb in the middle.
The strawberry plants were soon dwarfed by fast growing grasses, and then tall weeds of various types vied for supremacy. Part of me disliked the disorder but another part of me revelled in the randomness. Mostly I was just curious what would grow, and perhaps disinterested in pulling out all the weeds – I had other work to do. Sure it makes sense to prefer some plants over others, especially if you are counting on your garden as a food source or for economic activity, but I like to practice live and let live. I do want to grow some food eventually but for now my garden is mostly just for fun and aesthetics.
I can use logic from time to time but I don’t always choose to. I don’t tend to divide the world into clearly defined groups of friends and enemies as so many people do; not for humans, not for animals and not even for plants. So I don’t think of weeds as evil plants needing to be eradicated. Some weeds, such as dandelions for example, are actually more beneficial than the suburban lawns that people want to keep pure, but that’s a discussion for another day. Today’s topic is thistles - glorious thistles. They aren’t much fun to walk on (as the barefoot invading Norse soldiers found out in the old country so long ago, making the simple thistle the national floral emblem of Scotland), they aren’t much fun to grab with a bare hand (almost without fail if you try to uproot them, they find a way to prick you; even when wearing gloves) and I suppose that they aren’t much fun to eat if you are a grazing herbivore either, but they are pretty to look at. And besides, having Scottish heritage, I like the symbolism.
Richard, on the other hand, strongly advised me, and with a tone of urgency and disgust, that I ought to remove these invasive weeds before they go to seed. I don’t think that he saw any beauty there. His large square garden, by way of comparison, has nice orderly rows of vegetables and doesn’t have a weed in sight. A few weeks ago, I had thought to maybe pick some of the flowers but now it was getting late in the season. Richard was right on at least one thing, they were indeed going to seed.
So, I relented and cut them all down, but snipped off the remaining flowers and stuffed them in a pint glass, carefully, with a bit of water. It was just starting to rain, and the forecast called for a lot of it and so I wasn’t sure what to do with my pint of thistles. I didn’t have a good place to put them indoors – my tiny cabin is rather crowded and I probably would have ended up moving them from place to place or knocked them over with a stray elbow, so I just put them on my outdoor workbench and took a load of rubbish to the dump.
And then something magical happened. The rain stopped, the sun started shining, and my little bouquet of thistles came alive with activity. Several bees and wasps of different shapes and sizes were eagerly collecting pollen and a tiny light green translucent spider, the likes of which I had never seen before, took up shop, no doubt angling for a meal of his own.
I don’t know if it is only Scottish people who enjoy weeds but I for one think that more people should. Beauty is not defined by logic and it is hard to capture with rules, but rather it is found wherever you look for it, wherever you open your heart to it, wherever you take the time to notice it; and it is often lurking right beneath our noses. The epic drama of nature is all around us if we could only drop our preconceptions, climb out of our little self-imposed boxes and look beyond our utterly human-dominated world.
Colin Hamm, August 29, 2013