The intellectuals and philosophers would probably tell you it is mindfulness. For me it is mindless, something from which my cognitive left brain can disengage, while my fingers scratch and tug and pluck.
The smell of crushed plants and dusty or moist soil, the sun baking down, the trickle of sweat down your face or belly, the thirst building up in your throat, the ache of a back bent over for too long – it isn’t something you intentionally focus on, as in other mindfulness exercises. It just floats to the top of your awareness like a dry leaf on water.
But precisely because of its mindless nature, weeding opens a space in my mind for thinking. As the two worlds of intellect and mindless labour shift over each other like transparent layers, thoughts connect. Words form. Ideas are born.
Meta-weeding (an aside)
Since for this blog the ideas generated during weeding are about weeding itself, I shall call it meta-weeding. (The prefix meta- here means “about itself or its own category”.) Don’t try to analyse this too much. It is not strictly linguistically and epistemologically true, because it is not weeding about weeding, but I like the word, so there. Please keep on reading. Or weeding.
Most of us never stop to think what weeds are. Because surely everybody knows what is a weed and what not. Not? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth” while the Oxford calls it “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants”. So weeds are wild, unwanted and vigorous. (I know people like that, very lovely people).
Someone else said weeds are just the wrong plant in the wrong place at the wrong time. Spot a stray pumpkin seedling in the rose garden – it’s a weed. Put it in the veggie bed and it ceases to be unwanted, even if still wild and vigorous.
Maybe a pumpkin isn’t weed and wild enough. But even “recognised” and defined weeds can actually be beneficial. It all depends on your view point. Some herbs, e.g. dandelion and stinging nettle, are weeds in most people’s opinion.
To take another linguistic detour. In Afrikaans the terms for herb and weed lie close together – krui(d) and onkruid. Literally herb and unherb. And sometimes the distinction blurs.
Now step through the layers to where labour and intellect connect. To the gardens where weedy words grow, where authors and editors get down and dirty among the wild things.
Because words can be weedy too.
The wrong word in the wrong place at the wrong time? A weed. But unlike their botanical counterparts, word weeds are often only recognised by a trained eye. It takes a seasoned writer or an eagle-eyed editor to know the noxious nature of a word weed. With their nifty fingers they take hold of the unwanted words and pluck them out, roots and all.
Not all bad
For an enthusiastic writer, editing is often hard and painful. Some words (or phrases or sentences or even whole chapters) take root deep in the heart. When they are pulled out by a good weeder, it can be really painful. But weeds are not all bad, so when your writing patch looks like a neglected cottage garden, remember this:
- Some weeds are merely misplaced self-sown seedlings that can be transplanted to their rightful place. You never know what good they may bring once they strike the right ground.
- Weeds are pioneer plants – they prepare the soil for better things to come. That stubborn weed with the foot long root? It’s bringing some nourishing stuff upwards deep out of Mother Earth’s gut.
- Sometimes, just sometimes, if you leave a weed and wait, it will turn into a flower. Leave that shabby first draft for a day, a week. Don’t pull out all the weeds immediately. Turn your back and neglect it and you never know what flowers might grow…