Sackville Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - BY SANDY MALASKY

This has been our first gar­den­ing sea­son since mov­ing to New Bruns­wick.

My part­ner and I in­her­ited a gar­den ra­di­at­ing the love and care pro­vided by the pre­vi­ous own­ers and we sought to fol­low in that tra­di­tion. This year, we made the gar­den our own by lov­ingly plant­ing veg­eta­bles and flow­ers with an eye to taste, colour, and the sheer joy of watch­ing things bloom in se­quence as the wheel of the year turns.

As the frost passed and spring pro­gressed, the plants we call “weeds” also pre­sented them­selves in both gar­den and lawn. Dur­ing an en­counter with a par­tic­u­larly re­sis­tant dan­de­lion tap­root I pon­dered a peren­nial ques­tion: what lay be­hind my de­sire to “erad­i­cate” these plant neigh­bours?

This dilemma is de­light­fully ad- dressed by Richard Mabey in his book Weeds: In De­fense of Na­ture’s Most Unloved Plants.

Mabey gave me a dif­fer­ent con­text within which to con­sider the ques­tion sug­gest­ing that how, why and where “we clas­sify plants as un­de­sir­able is part of the story of our cease­less at­tempts to draw bound­aries be­tween na­ture and cul­ture, wild­ness and do­mes­ti­ca­tion.”

In modern west­ern cul­tures, the ways in which hu­man be­ings co-ex­ist with plants has all too of­ten been an at­tempt to se­cure our place over and against “na­ture.” Re­li­gious be­liefs, in­ter­pre­ta­tions of sa­cred texts, tran­si­tory artis­tic taste, the ul­ti­mately fu­tile at­tempts to solve prob­lems by start­ing wars, and sim­ple hubris have largely de­ter­mined how we think about our plant neigh­bours.

For some, “weeds” are con­tin­u­ing signs of God’s wrath for hu­man­ity’s first sin­ful be­hav­iour. In me­dieval Europe, a plant could ac­tu­ally be taken to court “if it was thought to be vi­o­lat­ing God’s laws or so­ci­ety’s codes.” At other times in his­tory they are de­scribed in the lan­guage of im­pe­ri­al­ism as “sav­age,” “brutish” and need­ing to be con­quered and sub­dued as “wild gate­crash­ers” into our civ­i­lized realm (Mabey).

The of­ten- life­less lan­guage of modern science is a nec­es­sary but in­suf­fi­cient method to help us de­velop an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of our chang­ing place within a di­verse cre­ation. Us­ing the lan­guage of po­etry as well as science, Mabey sug­gests a more har­mo­nious ap­proach call­ing for a “rap­proche­ment ... mar­ry­ing prac­ti­cal con­trol with cul­tural ac­cep­tance.”

Such a truce would en­able us lis­ten to other, of­ten older, cul­tural voices and re­spect­fully ex­plore ap­proaches ar­ro­gantly dis­missed as re­flec­tions of su­per­sti­tion or a lack of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. In so do­ing, we may be bet­ter equipped to learn from past dis­as­trous at­tempts to erad­i­cate plant species, e.g. the in­ter­gen­er­a­tional ef­fects of spray­ing Agent Or­ange in Viet­nam and CFB Gage­town.

The cur­rent po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy re­gard­ing the aerial spray­ing of glyphosate in forested land and along rail and power lines in New Bruns­wick of­fers an­other op­por­tu­nity to lis­ten and learn from a broad spec­trum of voices. All too of­ten such de­bate is cen­tred on nar­rowly-de­fined eco­nomic views of costs and ben­e­fits. We op­er­ate un­der the as­sump­tion that, to quote Mar­garet Thatcher, “there is no al­ter­na­tive.” This state­ment was not true then and is not true now.

We have as many al­ter­na­tives as we are will­ing to hon­estly and openly ex­plore. Plans for our fu- ture do not have to re­flect the po­ten­tially eco­ci­dal di­chotomy of jobs vs. our wa­ter, air, and soil. The health of our chil­dren should not be pit­ted against cal­ci­fied but pow­er­ful sys­tems re­gard­less of the dam­age done. We are at a point in the his­tory of this planet when we can and must do bet­ter.

So, here I am back at my stale­mate with a dan­de­lion. In light of ev­ery­thing writ­ten above I de­cided that its tap­root should re­main to pro­duce blooms an­other day. Am I hang­ing up the “weed” ex­trac­tor for good? Ab­so­lutely not, but per­haps in the fu­ture I will ap­proach the task in a more mind­ful man­ner; seek­ing har­mony in my lit­tle patch of earth and re­mem­ber­ing that “weeds are peo­ple’s idea, not na­ture’s.”

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