White Blood Cells

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In John Thompson’s book Jesus, Bread and Chocolate he describes living on a farm in Illinois during his childhood. He recalls seeing weeds reclaim a spot that had been used as a dump.

The dump was like a gaping, festering wound carved in ground that wanted to be beautiful. Over time, I noticed weeds, shrubs, and saplings start to grow thickly around the edges and then up through the middle of the dump. Vines spread their tendrils across an old washing machine. Slowly, relentlessly, the earth seemed to be healing itself. Those weeds were like white blood cells rushing to fight off an infection.

I really like the image of weeds as white blood cells. I too have seen nature cover up ugly messes made by humans. Remove us from the picture and it won’t take long for nature to bury our work, like ancient Mayan cities enveloped in jungle.

I spend a lot of time battling the weeds this time of year. ¬†And by “weeds” I just mean plants growing where I don’t want them.

I can't get any closer to these beans with the cultivator without putting them at risk, so...

I can’t get any closer to these beans with the cultivator without putting them at risk, so…

Three hours later, the weeds are all pulled up and laying in the alley (where they will reroot after the next rain).

Three hours later, the weeds are all pulled up and laying in the alley (where they will reroot after the next rain).

Most of the time, the weeds I’m working hard to destroy are themselves working to heal wounds made by me. I rip open and pulverize the soil, then protect only the seeds and seedlings I desire. But nature sees bare soil, exposed to erosion, less able to preserve moisture and less hospitable to subterranean life, and she rushes in to cover and protect it. Like white blood cells fighting an infection, to use John Thompson’s image.

In our defense, we don’t poison the weeds, and we encourage them as long as they’re not competing with the plants we eat. As farms go, we’re a weed-friendly place. Still, when I’m plowing under and pulling up weeds, I’m working at cross purposes with nature.

Today I’ll resume my pitiful efforts to beat back the weeds, knowing that all I can realistically hope for is to slow them down. In the end, they win. And that’s OK by me. By the time they command the battlefield and claim their ultimate victory, we will have harvested our food. So we’ll win too.

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