When our eonian parents were flung from that divine garden, the first thing they did was scrabble about in the dirt for things to eat. They soon found that not all green and growing things are good for food; and that those things which were good needed protection from botanic creepers, chokers and toxic neighbours. Hence, weed identification—truly the oldest profession—was born.
I now stand in the ancient tradition of weed identification—a Weed Inspector, in the fecund line of that first unidentified weed inspector, for that first county, somewhere east of Eden. (If there is a weed in need of an identity…I will be there!)
Of course, here, east of Edson, and now, in the long-tooth neolithic, things are somewhat different. I am governed by the Alberta Weed Control Act and their designations of prohibited noxious and noxious weeds. With the former, the desire is eradication, the later, control.
Although I knew the reality, the cells in me that tend toward the romantic were nevertheless hoping for a more fluid, philosophical approach—eye of the beholder and all that—argue their beauty, their ingenuity, their innocence. As it is, almost all of our “noxious weeds” were imported as ornamentals. A Eurasian invasion was not their own doing. Their fruits were packed into steamer trunks and brought over by hopeful gardeners. You’d think all this would accrue some sort of weedy mercy.
Well, I am fond of weeds. There is no malice in a weed. It does what it does in order to flourish, to bloom—even those wondrous grasses whose micro-blossoms are more energy than actual. And they do this with aplomb. Too much aplomb. Some, much too much.
Having joined the ranks of weed inspection I have begun, although still in training mode, to walk fields and roadways, parks and pastures, scanning—training my eyes to spot and identify, not flowers but cotyledons, first true leaves, seedlings of tall buttercup, orange hawkweed and oxeye daisy…all “noxious weeds.” Here is a seedling of a tall buttercup in a pasture:
I’m learning their mysteries and histories, and yes, toxicities. Consider the spotted knapweed or the garlic mustard plant, both bullies, or rather, allelopathic plants. That is, they secure their own existence by being bastardly toward other plants. There is no symbiosis, no welcome, no getting along, just a built in tendency toward the obnoxious (ob, toward noxa, harm—perhaps there is malice).
So it is for good reason that certain weeds must be asked to permanently relocate or at least to curb their enthusiasm. If not, they would choke out our grain and vegetable crops, poison our livestock, or even, such as the menacing and perfectly named, black henbane, poison us.
My job, simply, is to spy them out, wish them the best but write them up. After that, let’s just say I wash my hands.
WEEDS – Carl Sandburg
FROM the time of the early radishes
To the time of the standing corn
Sleepy Henry Hackerman hoes.
There are laws in the village against weeds.
The law says a weed is wrong and shall be killed.
The weeds say life is a white and lovely thing
And the weeds come on and on in irrepressible regiments.
Sleepy Henry Hackerman hoes; and the village law uttering a ban on weeds is unchangeable law.