The Mugwort Problem

Spending an afternoon with your arms elbow-deep in garden soil can yield a dozen comparisons to your own human condition that persists outside of it. Garden tasks are rich with metaphor: weed/plant/till/water, as are the elements one encounters there: seed/root/ blossom/weed.

Mugwort invasion. The poor tulips are lost in it.

Four three hours stretches on two days this past week I weeded out the mugwort from the small butterfly garden that runs along our driveway. Weeding is thankless, boring and often futile work which, come to think of it, is a good description for many of the other regular activities we spend hours of our days executing, too. It can be disheartening to think about the amount of time we spend on tasks that will need to be repeated again tomorrow or in two hours from now or immediately. Laundry. Dishes. Making the bed. The sameness of it all–like the nearly identical looking weeds in the garden–is enough to drive me mad.

See what I mean about easy analogies?

Mugwort is a plant in the daisy family that is native to the north temperate regions of Europe and was introduced to the United States probably sometime in the late 1800s. Innocuous enough in April, by July mugwort stalks can reach heights of three feet and, though the plant has been used for centuries in Chinese, Japanese and Korean traditional medicines, its pollen is one of the main sources of hay fever and allergic asthma during the late summer and fall. One person’s trash is, indeed, another’s treasure as in this case: I’m getting rid of the flowering weeds (that make Noah’s nose stuffy from May to October) while other ladies in town harvest it so they can steep the leaves and brew a tea that reportedly boosts energy and improves digestion.

Mugwort with roots.

Mugwort is propagated mainly by rhizomes–a complicated and vigorous underground root system that sends out perpendicular shoots from bulbous, thick nodes which, in turn, make new plants. If a rhizome is separated or cut into pieces, each piece can give rise to a brand new plant, an attribute that makes eradicating the stuff next to impossible. If you pull off just the leaves and stem and don’t get the root, a new shoot will appear in that spot within a day or two. If you chop up the roots, each piece will sprout a new plant–so tilling the soil is, essentially, seeding a whole new crop of the stuff. The plant is resistant to almost every chemical treatment, too (not that I’d spray Round Up on my lawn anyway), so the most effective (and work intensive) way to keep mugwort under control is to pull up the small seedlings slowly, one by one, taking care to remove as much of the intact root as you can.

For six hours I got to spend time with the 4,722 mugwort seedlings invading my garden and also with the 4,722 worries that occupy most of the grey matter space of my brain. Though at first I thought I might go crazy from the mere racket of all the concern that resides there, after awhile I settled into a rhythm of ignoring it. Weeding was like meditation (only action and goal-oriented), and I eventually became wholly focused NOT on my navel-gazing issues, but on pulling out all of those damn roots. After I was done and two wheel-barrows full of roots and leaves and stems and shoots were dumped on the compost pile (where they will surely root and eventually overrun), I felt clear and light. When I got inside I sat down and finished a poem I have been toiling with for weeks.

Partly weeded.

As you’ve read on Gina’s side of the blog she’s been traveling again and, sometimes, when I read about her adventures and her life over There I can get to feeling a bit bummed out with this whole leaving-staying-Here-There dynamic. Sure I miss them (desperately at times), but it can also seem like I drew the short straw. I mean, really. Over there are pictures of museums and ancient cities and the blue, blue sea and I’m posting photos of weeds.

But this is the deal for me over Here. For now anyway. This Staying thing is my thing. So I need to keep hoeing deep and digging for significance in the ordinary and sowing the seeds of new friendships and tilling new Friday night adventures and weeding out…well, the weeds.

It’s good to remind myself from time to time that the small, seemingly unexceptional weeds that exist, obviously, above the soil, belie a more complicated, connected mass of life and learning that lies beneath it. You’ve just got to be willing to dig deep enough to get there and, sometimes, for a very long time. For me, this Staying I’m reporting to you about entails just that (the digging and the attention and the intent to find Stuff That Matters).

Incidentally, sometimes having Gina over There writing about the leaving and the adventures and the other places and the foreignness and all those other ways of being can help root me, ever more firmly, right where I am.








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