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29 November, 2009


To be a weed: an ambition most rare. A bad joke to most, but a guiding principal to me. I want to grow like a weed, to survive and thrive beyond my native range.

For what is a weed but a success in the wrong place? Globalization, climate change, even good old fashioned cross-pollination, what are these all if not foreminders that the finicky curators of the world will never win? Most of the “pristine” environments of the world are illusions—the Amazon rainforest was once an Indian garden, the Virginia woodlands of 1606 an oft-burnt game park—and all of them will change and morph as new arrivals come. Some of the new arrivals wreak havoc when freed from the strictures of their homes—the frowning disapproval of elders, the clampdown of the predator’s jaw—some species are like those drunken sailors on liberty, running roughshod over locals and dispersing their seed wherever they can. Even in this, though, even in their sneaking or invading, there can be value, as like a virus they test the strength of their hosts, the strongest of which gain immunity, bear stronger offspring, and adjust or outlast the exotic pathogen.

But I am no apologist for the weeds that wipe out the native species, and don’t aspire to that. I seek humbler weedhood: the kind that takes hold in harsh un-vegetated lava flows and sidewalks, that crawled out of a swamp but can make do in a desert, that can be whacked all summer and sprout anew in the spring. Stubborn, ineradicable, persistent, stoic, broken but not bowed: possessed of a continuum of obstinacies despicable and fidelities admirable.

Weeds grow paradoxes. I am the ugly flower nobody suspects of wafting sweet airs, a mysterious and unexpected gift, rewarding most fully only the curious who will take the time to put their nose to the dirt. I am the koa haole, scrawny invader tree whose spindly shade nurses young endemics, whose taproots break eroded hardpan and start soil growing again, feeding it with nitrogen fixing nodules, whose succession eventually runs its course and moves elsewhere.

I am the medicine hidden in the cells, known best to the uneducated peasants.

I am the dandelion in the lawn, relentlessly poisoned or pried up by most, but still offering gifts to any and all who can see them. Yellow cheer to the sad. Fluffy toys to the ticklish and the kids whose breath still blows happy winds. Healthy greens and roots to the hungry. Wine to the parched. Life’s renewed foothold in the paved and smothered land.

Weeds wander, and make homes wherever they can. Quick to recognize the hospitality of the plowman. Wont to spread their seed far and wide. Ready to try new fields. Happy to occupy the fringes and exhausted places spurned by affected cultivars. Able to pull up roots and move in when it is time, or to put them down as opportunities arise. Likely to improvise with roots from stems, sprouts from half-eaten bits and old damaged seed. Always a thumb out to hitch a ride in a boot, a feather, a gust.

Unafraid to land and try growing in someplace new and unexpected. Weeds pioneer where others would hesitate, and are seldom heard to complain when the place they improved gets gentrified, pushing them out again (although they do tend to sneak back in the second you turn your back).

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