Give ‘weeds’ a chance


When I was a boy, Doc­tor Spear, the fam­ily den­tist, would try to count my freck­les. As a red-haired, fish-belly-white kid, it was clear my good doc­tor was em­bark­ing on a job he’d never fin­ish. I hated the Novo­caine shots, the drilling, and the lec­tures about candy, but I also didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate Spear’s emo­tion­ally pierc­ing rit­ual.

At re­cess, be­ing called Freckle Face was okay com­pared to the other in­sults tossed my way. Plus, Mom was right. Be­ing the short, fat, cowlick-laden kid with in­fi­nite freck­les is char­ac­ter-build­ing. Not only did it give me a pro­found un­der­stand­ing of the “in­fi­nite,” I also think my speck­led past gaveme a lit­tle more re­spect and sym­pa­thy for weeds.

With a few loud­mouths com­plain­ing about Santa Fe’s “weed problem,” it’s im­por­tant for us nor­mal, blem­ished-in­our-own-beau­ti­ful-and-unique-ways peo­ple to stand up to the haters. In the desert, a weed is typ­i­cally a plant about which peo­ple are too ob­tuse to un­der­stand. Weeds are plants that peo­ple have not yet learned to ap­pre­ci­ate or to fig­ure out some ben­e­fi­cial use for. The cause of weed man­age­ment is cer­tainly not worth poi­son­ing our side­walks, streets, open spa­ces, rivers, and chil­dren. Last month marked the an­niver­sary of the pub­li­ca­tion of Rachel Car­son’s Silent Spring. Have we learned noth­ing in 55 years?

Lis­ten: Your idea of a messy yard, your con­cept of a “clean” me­dian, and your mis­placed need to con­trol na­ture should mean noth­ing when com­pared to the rav­ages of weed-killing chem­i­cals. Per­haps, if we had enough money in the pub­lic purse to pay peo­ple to pull­weeds, we could do that to ap­pease your psy­chotic fetishes, but the fact is that con­sid­er­able sci­en­tific ev­i­dence has led seven Euro­pean coun­tries to ban or sig­nif­i­cantly re­strict RoundUp, Mon­santo’s fa­mous her­bi­cide. The body of ev­i­dence that points to the fam­ily of her­bi­cides as deadly is over­whelm­ing.

We live in a land where we get only 12 inches of rain an­nu­ally. We have de­stroyed this arid re­gion with over­graz­ing, de­for­esta­tion, and sprawl­ing de­vel­op­ment. As a re­sult, our soils do not ab­sorb moisture in the way that they used to, plant ma­te­rial no longer pro­tects the crust of the ever-brit­tle earth, and our im­per­vi­ous roads, roofs, park­ing lots, and pa­tios tend to cre­ate ero­sion when it rains rather than pro­vide the help­ful amount of moisture that these sur­faces might oth­er­wise de­liver.

We should thank God for weeds. They grow. They’re alive. They heal the skin of our only planet. We should bless them and keep them and knowthat they shade our land. They of­fer wind pro­tec­tion. They hug, kiss, ca­ress, and hold the soil. They be­stow habi­tat and food for birds, bees, and other forms of bio­di­ver­sity that our lo­cal farm­ers need in or­der to feed us.

The freck­les on my face have mostly faded. Doc­tor Spear must be dead by now. Time heals so much if you let it. Let’s be pa­tient. Let’s be calm. Let’s let weeds do their jobs, and let’s not dis­grace our planet just be­cause of the­way it looks.

Nate Downey, the au­thor of Har­vest the Rain, has been de­sign­ing mostly weed-free land­scapes in the Amer­i­can South­west since 1992. He can be reached at www. per­made­

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