Stewardship as Irrational Behavior
Maybe you have times when you question your own sanity? I know I do. Each spring, I discover an entirely unsuspected obsessive dimension of my own psyche. What brings this about? A plant know locally as Miner’s Lice, because its mature seeds grip Velcro-like to pants legs and then crawl upward. Personally, I call the stuff Devil’s Weed, and each spring and early summer it becomes the focus of my Bacchanalian frenzy out in the woods, as I tear it up, one plant at a time.
There is no confirmation for this, but local belief is that the plant is part of the carrot family, Apiaceae. Poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, is also part of this family, and I suspect that my nemesis is a smaller but no less noxious cousin, in part because when I hold a bundle of them in my hand long enough, my fingers turn numb.
The Perfectly Invasive Weed
As I have been hunting it down for years, I have come to know its habits, and they are not nice. First, it is an invasive weed and specializes in overtaking less aggressive native wildflowers and crowding them out. Each plant sinks long, carrot-like roots into the root system of the native flower, as a gang of the devils surrounds the poor native. Thus, they are able to sap the native’s water and nutrient supply. Next, they flower with lovely little white blossoms that very soon turn into seeds that are barbed and which cling to anything that moves through the woods. They are transported easily to new sites of infestation by deer and squirrels, foxes and bears, mountain lions and bobcats, raccoons and skunks, as well as humans and their attendant dogs and cats.
My cat Sophia loves to hunt in the weeds below our vegetable garden, and in summer she often returns looking like an armored cat, completely plated in burrs from this miserable plant. She is also a vector, happily spreading the seeds as she lolls in the flower garden behind the house, or leaving a trail of burrs across the living room rug. Because the burrs hook in so deeply, it is almost impossible to brush them out. Instead, they must be picked off, one burr at a time, usually taking a tuft of fur with it, a process that, as you can imagine, annoys Sophia maximally.
So each spring, when I see the first ferny leaves push through the leaf mold, I begin to bend and pull, bend and pull. I do this thousands of times, until I have bales of drying weeds lying in heaps around the premises and in the surrounding woods. So diabolical are these weeds that, even after being yanked from the ground, they still expend every drop of remaining life force to bring the seeds to fruition. So it is necessary to bag them tightly in plastic to avoid reintroduction to the grounds.
As spring moves inevitably into summer, the pace of my weeding increases. There are still so many areas that I haven’t had time to clear, and millions of seeds burgeoning into an advancing army. I go out for a forty minute walk and return two hours later, my back aching from traversing a steep woodland hillside bent double, one arm pulling, the other cradling a growing cache of the enemy. I’m hot, sweaty and triumphant. Then I lie awake at night, planning my next line of attack.
Now, the rational part of me knows that I will never win this war. These plants are the ultimate survivors and they will prevail. The aggressive way in which they annex territory, however, annoys me no end. This is not their home. They’re like home invasion robbers who displace and kill legitimate plants. So I will keep fighting on, as long as I am able to navigate the surrounding steep terrain. But like Louis Quinze, après moi, le déluge!
Stewardship as Rational Behavior
Why do I do it? When my sweat band is wringing wet and I’m up to my knees in poison oak as I pursue the last of a localized infestation, I ask myself this question. The answer: we are stewards of this blessed planet. I can’t stop the Devil’s Weed, but I can do my part to slow it down. And I wonder: what if everyone took on some small, seemingly pointless task of stewardship? What if they read to someone with poor eyesight in an old folks’ home? Or tutored a struggling student? Or picked up trash alongside the road? Sure, there will be more trash tomorrow. More old people or students who need help. But if everyone did something–I believe this with all my heart–together we could weed the world!