I recently read A Weed by Any Other Name by Nancy Gift. She came to my class last week to speak about the process of writing in this particular genre, a non-fiction memoir with educational leanings about lawn care, pesticide usage and the environment. What I found most interesting about Gift's book is how much ground she manages to cover in a book that is supposed to be about weeds. Our treatment of weeds are a microcosm, reflecting our culture's intolerance for pesky, unwanted things (plants, people, ideas, etc) and over-usage of pesticides and herbicides shows our cultures need for perfection and quick fixes.
Gift paints a different picture. She sees weeds as a sign that her yard is a healthy, thriving, diverse ecosystem that attracts a variety of insects and animals to graze on the various yard greens. She argues that if we simply took the time to create a healthy yard with pesticide free soil, we could begin to see that weeds are not a reflection of poverty or lack of pride in our yard's appearance, but rather a reflection of our values in terms of health and the environment. Also, it takes more time to tend to a yard without the help of chemicals to instantly zap away a dandelion. It made me think of teaching and discipline. In the classroom, it is much easier to punish a pesky student rather than continually reward good behavior and create a culture of positivity. That kind of classroom culture is developed over time and requires patience and consistency.
I personally find lawn care strange. I do no have a yard and I find myself becoming overwhelmed by the thought of caring for one someday. I do not know the first thing about landscaping or gardening. When would I find the time to take care of things? What kind of gear would I need? It seems that lawn maintenance is a big business and the folks at Home Depot would want to convince me that I need all sorts of electric and gas powered machinery to care for a few blades of grass and some bushes. Just seems like the same old culture of stuff. Buying more stuff for your stuff.
I remember my lawn growing up as a fun place to find flowers (aka: violets, buttercups and dandelions) and roll down hills. My parents never used pesticides all over,but my dad sometimes spot treated with Weed n' Feed. If I have a lawn in the future, weeds are an important part of that space. Gift argues that children today have less and less experiences with wildness and wild spaces. I agree with this. In high school, I volunteered at a vacation bible school on the northside of the city. One day we took all the kids to a church camp in the Laurel Highlands. I remember some of the kids telling me they never saw a big hill with trees on it before. How sad and strange, yet wonderful that they got this chance to run and play in large fields. These normally rowdy kids were all napping on the way home, worn out from running in a wild space. I took those landscapes for granted growing up. I can only imagine, now that its' been ten years since high school, how many children growing up still don't experience any wild spaces. Lawns are the closest thing we have to the wild for many people.
Interestingly, I went camping with my mom this weekend (more on that in another post) and she was unhappy with her trashy romance novel she brought to read. I handed her Gift's book and at first she thought I was crazy (A book about weeds? Really, Laura!?). Later, fed up with her lack of reading material, she gave it a try and was immediately drawn in by Gift's familiar tone. She said she felt like she knew her and she also was surprised at how many of the weed's she was already familiar with. I'm glad she's enjoying it and while she might already know a lot of what the book is preaching, perhaps she can pass it on to my dad and we can get him to retire the Weed n' Feed. Here's hoping.