My family bought a house this spring. Our first home. Our first plot of land that is ours to maintain and serve. It’s a large piece of land for our area and for us. Our house is small (1096 sq. ft.) but we sit on 1/5 of an acre, most of which is taken up with an enormous garden. It is easily the size of a footprint of a small house. The previous owners grew a lot of their own food, raised chickens (the house came with a beautiful chicken coop!) and goats. I almost feel bad that their good work was sold to people who don’t know the first thing about gardening.
On top of buying our first home and garden, we had a baby the night we moved in, ten weeks ago. Our third child, on top of the 6 and 3 year olds. Let’s just say that gardening and getting to know the land has not been our first priority.
Spring hit just as we moved in. Rain and sun and untended land turns into weeds and a jungle. I managed to find some university students from the sustainable agriculture program at the local university who will use much of the huge food garden. Why waste such prime land? It’s mutually beneficial that the land be tended. But the rest of the yard and surrounding area is overgrown in the extreme. We cannot even keep up with mowing it. I stupidly suggested we buy a non-polluting, less expensive, human-powered push mower. Turns out our yard is not level and wow, is mowing vastly more difficult if the grass isn’t smooth already. Sigh.
I have a hard time with clutter and disorder. We aren’t even finished moving in on the inside! Having the outside be chaos as well is extremely overwhelming for me. It’s so challenging that I nearly cried about it this week. I don’t know where to begin! I don’t know what’s a weed and what isn’t! I don’t want to be the house with knee-high grass and ivy overrunning everything! I don’t want the kids to get attacked by invasive blackberry thorns when they go out to play! I don’t want to disrespect the land and neglect it; I want to honor what we’ve been entrusted with.
After spending a week freaking out about all of this, I decided to get out and start. Start somewhere, start with the obvious: I decided to weed. I’d pull the weeds that are overtaking the walkway and the driveway, and pull out the pretty delicate yellow flowers that I know are weeds.
I spent one hour weeding and it made an adult of me. I spent the first half hour squatting, with the baby strapped onto me, pulling out those yellow-flowered weeds from the front of the house, attempting to pull up some dandelions (key word: attempt), and some other pervasive weeds that I don’t know the names of. I felt primal: squatting in the dirt and rocks, working with my hands, with the baby in a carrier. Later, I laid the baby in a shady part of the grass and went to work on the driveway. I smiled to myself. Something about owning and working land made me feel like I’d finally become an adult. It wasn’t having kids. Oh no, it was weeding that did it.
As I weeded I talked to the land. I talked to the weeds. I told them that these weren’t good places for them. That we’d need to find better spots for them to grow. I told them I admired their strength and tenacity (holy crap, some of those weeds are TOUGH). I asked the land spirits to guide me as I worked, to help me know how to care for this land.
I learned that weeds are strong. Some of their roots go deep. I learned that they can be very pretty. I realized that a lot of weeds look alike! Many of them have similar types of roots and shapes of leaves. I realized my plant biases too: fireweed is my favorite plant of all time. Some of it grows on our property! It’s a weed I’m keeping. Weeds are also smart. Those blackberry bushes that put out limbs as thick as my fingers, traipsing along in the shadows, under other bushes, as if they can keep growing if no one knows they’re there.
I learned that weeding is addicting. Just one more. Just one more section, one more pull, one more yank. An hour passed in the blink of an eye. There is so very much work to be done in our yard. And that doesn’t include growing food yet! Or raising chickens! Or the bees we hope to get in a few years…..
For now, I’m dealing with the overwhelming feelings I have by going out and doing one easy thing first. I hope to learn as I go. Without consulting a single book (my typical plan of attack) I went out and started. Learning by doing. By experiencing what the weeds themselves could show me. Hopefully the land itself will teach me and together – land and humans – we will shape this place into something mutually beneficial.