Toward the end of the summer in central Minnesota, gardens are at their peak. The cool loving crops like lettuce and broccoli and peas have given into the heat, but tomatoes, squash, zucchini, beans, berries, melons…all of these are coming into their own as the season matures. As I look out across the field that houses our little patch of abundance, I see a mess of color. There are shades of emerald green as the kale plants start to resemble small palm trees, hues of red and pink as the raspberries and tomatoes start to blush and vibrant yellow squash and cucumber blossoms as the vines get ready to bear round two. There is the orange of a pumpkin just starting to take on its fall jacket and the purple of the tiny eggplants that are relishing the warm humid air.
And punctuating that mess of vibrant color? Weeds.
There are creeping viney weeds snaking around the fence posts and into the raised beds. There are sturdy tree-like weeds interspersed between the pumpkins and bushier weeds mingling with the peppers. There are purple spiney weeds and delicate flower-like weeds and hulking thorny weeds. And there is grass – quack grass and prairie grass and grass that looks like it belongs in the yard, all of it tall and all of it declaring the garden its home of choice.
Early in the season as the seeds that were sown started poking up through the late spring soil, I took care to mulch well in hopes of suppressing some of the inevitable weeds that are part of a garden’s life cycle. As the plants came into their own, I found myself clutching a hoe and hunching over rows of tiny carrots and beets, pulling blades of grass one at a time. I put down more mulch and hoed more vigorously. I went out right after the rains so the ground was just right for pulling weeds out by the root. I crossed my Ts and dotted my Is.
And here we are at the end of the summer, and I have a garden full of weeds, once again.
When it became apparent that I was not going to prevail over the weedy conditions without spending every waking hour on weeding related activities, a sense of defeat started to creep in. After all of that, I still failed? What was the point of all of the care and forethought and physical labor? Maybe I just should have been kicking back on the porch with a cocktail, watching the weeds grow instead of spending so much time out in their midst trying to conquer them.
But as the season continues, I find myself looking at the weeds differently. They are a tangled, unorganized, wild and motley crew, to be sure. I didn’t want them. But they are thriving. And so are the vegetables and fruits that I did want. Everything out in that garden, planned or not, wild and cultivated, is full of life.
Somewhere along the way, the garden and I came a sustainable balance. All of that work that I did early in the season was enough when I added acceptance of the things that I didn’t want. My efforts prepared the planned garden plants to thrive – even alongside the bits of wild and weedy growth that became their neighbors.
So it is with our human lives. When we can spend energy cultivating our internal growth, whether that comes in the form of reading poetry or practicing yoga or promoting sustainability or fostering forgiveness, we set ourselves up for being able to accept whatever comes into the space that we inhabit. We can thrive when weeds mar our view and perhaps even start to see the beauty in the wildly tangled vines as they mesh with our own. We can let our feelings speak what they need to speak without judging them, and we can learn to find solace in the growth that can happen even in the midst of things that we didn’t think we wanted. We can remember that figuring out how to live in the space between what is wild and what is cultivated is an essential component of living in a way that honors the earth and all of the life that wants to exist here.
So as the garden season rolls on, I give thanks for the vegetables and herbs and fruits of my labor, and I give thanks for the opportunity to exist alongside the wildness that still thrives as my human life leaves impacts beyond what I can see in my everyday routine. I remember that hard, honest work and acceptance go hand in hand. And I remember that I want to live in a world where wildness still sometimes get the last word.
This is an excerpt from Prairie Grown: Stories and Recipes from a South Dakota Hillside.