Weeding is a kind of meditation that gets the conveyor belt of my thoughts rolling.
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:
I wonder if there are any great writers (novelists especially) who are/were also hairdressers. Because hairdressers must be told the most amazing stories. My hairdresser once told me that I was getting married, or so she had heard, years before I was aware of the fact myself!
Another occupation that is great for picking up stories, I am starting to learn, is gardening. People tell their hairdresser stories about their children or their marriages or their horrible bosses. People tell their gardeners stories about the neighbours.
One old man was convinced that his neighbour had moved the fence posts and was now encroaching on his property by a foot or more. Even a surveyor’s map could not convince him otherwise. We were also not allowed to attach any stakes or irrigation uprights to the said fence, because the neighbour was apparently an irritable and angry man who would almost certainly complain. If the wind so much as blew a drop of irrigation water over the fence, there would be hell to pay.
This “neighbour from hell” turned out to be a decent man who always greeted us with a smile and once offered us icy poles (at the time I didn’t even know what these were) when he saw us working at the hottest time of day.
Since plants don’t see borders as lines not to be crossed, considerable affront can result from trees hanging over fences, leaning against fences or creeping through fences with roots or winding stems. The accompanying stories about who cut down whose branches are usually told in a low confidential voice or a booming one that is meant to carry to the neighbour’s ears.
Messy trees get their leaves returned and weed seeds are blown back. Inter-residential weedkiller is another story with some homicidal (or was that herbicidal?) potential.
Some neighbours are just mentioned in passing as a source of information, as in “Mr. X said the council is bringing out new laws about pool safety” or “According to Miss Y there was a severe storm warning on the television last night”. Others have their whole family saga exposed – the new marriage, the chronic illness, the job lost or found.
And yet, if I were to write a book of garden stories, it would not be about the neighbours. It would be about the people themselves. Because whether they tell you their own stories or not, whether you even get to meet them at all, the garden tells its own story, and for a writer that means ever fertile ground for fiction.
Forgive my ignorance, but for some time I thought a polymath must be someone with multiple mathematical skills. It turns out the word actually comes from Greek polu (much) + manthanein (learn), in other words someone who knows a lot. A more familiar term is perhaps “Renaissance person”, which refers to someone like the Renaissance figure Leonardo da Vinci, who was skilled in many areas of both art and science.
But recently I came across another definition – multipotentialite. Artist and writer Emilie Wapnick has coined this term for someone who does not have a single focused skill for engineering or healing or making sculptures, but instead has a range of interests and abilities. I suspect that these days more and more multipontialites are surfacing, given the courage and the opportunity to investigate all possible interests and skills, instead of staying put in a lifetime job that just isn’t that fulfilling anymore.
I already have a mulipotentialite cat in the household and depicted her skill set in a recent cartoon, calling it the New Matilda Multi-tool.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, being a writer-artist-veterinarian-writer-gardener-cook-cob house builder- dancer (did I mention writer?) I give you – the Colour and Quill Multi-tool.