Those Billy Mays infomercials selling super-weeders that are really glorified weapons on the end of power drills are as silly as Swiffer mops. To do the job right, you have to get up close and personal.
There is Zen in dirt.
My parents always had a backyard garden, and it was the kids’ job to weed. Our backyard was huge, almost an acre. There were rows and rows of corn, lettuce, and squash. The weeds on the Front Range of Colorado were monsters, tall distant cousins of the tumbleweed. There were also prickly sticker plants and plenty of dandelions. We had only our hands to pull them — bare hands, not gloved ones. We were paid a penny a weed, and we had to produce a root to get paid.
I hated weeding back then.
It’s different now. At first, our garden space was unruly, no more than a pile of rocks covered with uncontained growth, and the war against the Asian thistle, wild mustard garlic, and creeping Charlie seemed like a lost one. Overcoming years of neglect seemed overwhelming. Like weeding as a child, that first year was daunting and I almost gave up. But I’m on a mission and there is no giving up. Each year I get out and pull. Finally it looks like I have control of my garden.
With each turn of the spade, I find fat earthworms, telling me my dirt is still good. There are tomatoes sprouting from the seeds of ones that had fallen to the ground the year before. We recycle our container potting soil, and lettuce from the seeds of last year’s containers is popping up all over. The oregano didn’t just survive the winter, it’s taking over the east side of the garden.
In the gardening world, there can be no rushing, no multi-tasking, and no harried phone calls, only the job at hand. What remains is the bond between gardener and medium, the coaxing and encouragement from the person turning the soil. The silence of the morning is disturbed only by the chatter of squirrels and the chirping of birds.
When digging in the dirt, the problems of the world fall away. I can’t think of politics, taxes, or my faltering business. I don’t worry about the future. Instead I dream about the characters I’m working on, and of the zucchini I’ll harvest and the tomatoes I will can in the fall.