FEELING A DRAFT? EOS ECO-ENERGY CAN HELP
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.”