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. Β 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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26 comments on “White Blood Cells

  1. smcasson says:

    This is encouraging, thanks. I like that image of the healing weeds. I have a spot way back in the back that has been used as a dump for quite some time (lots of 20s – 40s appliances, etc.). I want to get in there and clean it up, but it seems like it would take a dozer, because of all the vegetation growing up through it.
    Some of the more enjoyable “weeds” that are quick to reclaim fallow ground are raspberries. My boy and I have enjoyed picking those on our walks the past few weeks.

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    • Bill says:

      Here wild blackberries are among the first plants to take over recently cleared areas. They definitely improve life here.

      I’ve found a few old dump sites in the woods on our farm. When I was a boy, back before the days of dumpsters and county trash service, we carried our trash to a pit dug in the woods. It would take years to fill it up (there was a lot less trash back then) but when it was full it would be covered up (like a primitive landfill) and a new hole would be dug. But I too find old appliances dumped in the woods and covered with growth. There’s really no way to get them out now since you can’t get to them with a tractor. In those cases we just have to let nature make the best of a bad situation I guess.

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  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, indeed, weeds are just plants that the gardener doesn’t want growing in a particular spot. We want grass in our yard and groom it to the max but hate it in our gardens and do our best to eradicate it. I’m finding out that most of the plants that were in the wild untamed Terra Nova Gardens were actually edible and filled with vitamins and nutrition. No, I still hoe them out and don’t eat them. I wish the deer would take a liking to them but alas that’s not going to happen.

    For the last three years I tried my best to use mulch around the plants to keep the weeds under control. It just seemed to keep the ground moist and encourage them more so this year it’s been bare dirt which I really don’t like much but it’s much easier to clear out the weeds. About now when the heat starts to come, I’ll start mulching. All the weed seeds have sprouted and the cleanup is slowing down drastically in the garden beds.

    I’m still finding unique things as I dig in the garden. A couple days ago while digging a post hole, I dug up an old car brake shoe and found another doll head near by with no eyes (creepy). I suspect Terra Nova Gardens was a neighborhood dump for decades. I’m constantly digging up cement chunks when preparing beds for planting. Such is life for the urban farmer of vacant lots. πŸ™‚

    Have a great day weeding the garden.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Yesterday I found a rusty door hinge in our squash garden. I told Cherie, only on White Flint Farm would that happen. But maybe it’s more common than I thought. πŸ™‚

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  3. Being from Illinois, I am going to have to look up that book you referenced! I love being put on the trail of a book. Thank you. Weeds … I am losing the battle with our muddy summer.

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  4. Laurie@hinterlands.me says:

    I feel about slugs and snails the same way you feel about weeds. I understand their place in the natural world. I just don’t want them in my gardens. Like you, I don’t use poisons. And if I encounter them on a walk away from my gardens, then I leave them alone. Perhaps that’s the best we can do?

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    • Bill says:

      I think so. I feel like I’ve made a deal with our garden plants. I agree to help allow them to thrive and they in turn give me veggies. So I’m just trying to hold up my end of the deal, while doing as little collateral damage as I can.

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      • Laurie@hinterlands.me says:

        Yup. I feel sorry to kill the little creatures, who are, after all, just trying to live. But I must think of the plants. And if anything messes with my flowers and veggies…;)

        Liked by 2 people

  5. daphnegould says:

    Sometimes I really feel the dichotomy in the garden. One of the reasons I garden is to be close to nature. I don’t have a lot of that in the city, so the garden has become more important to me. But the reality is that a garden is trying to control nature and not letting it be itself. It both is nature and it isn’t. Though my eye really likes the order of the garden. I don’t like the look when it gets too weedy. I love the natural look of a meadow or the forest. I just don’t like the transitional look. What is good for the earth is a whole other matter. I wish I could mulch here to keep the soil covered with something besides weeds, but then the snails and earwigs take over.

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    • Bill says:

      I completely agree. Even though I fully know intellectually that grass in the alleys isn’t a bad thing (for example), I feel a powerful urge to get rid of it. I’m something of a neat freak and I want my gardens tidy. But nature is wild and unruly and always gets her way.

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  6. bobraxton says:

    and we (our bodies) are the last the weeds will harvest – or at least the (pushing up some) daisies

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      From dust we came and to dust we shall return. I’ve told Cherie to put my body in the compost pile when that day comes. I think I’d make a decent fertilizer. But she doesn’t seem to think much of the idea. πŸ™‚

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  7. EllaDee says:

    Weeds, plants in the wrong place to us… sustenance and shelter to insects, birds, wildlife… all depends on your POV. But a lot of the weeds or noxious plants in Australia were introduced through human intervention… the biggest pest of all!

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    • Bill says:

      I recall how carefully Australia tries now to prevent introduction of invasives. I entered Australia once just a couple of days after having been on a farm in Brazil. I had to agree to allow surveillance on myself as a condition of entry!

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      • EllaDee says:

        The word ‘now’ is key. Australia is riddled with invasive non native species, and some noxious spreading plants people still insist on putting in new gardens.

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  8. ain't for city gals says:

    I think that is one reason I love Arizona so much…where we live there are not weeds to speak of ….all the desert growth is so slow we appreciate it all….even when I know it is a weed I hesitate to pull it because it is green after all…almost like a flower.

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    • Bill says:

      I have friends who plant their garden on a deep layer of leaf mulch. The result is hardly any weeds at all. Makes me jealous. Of course here we have an abundance of water, which I know is precious in Arizona. We have lots of weeds because things grow so easily here. I guess it’s just a price of gardening here.

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  9. Laurie@hinterlands.me says:

    On another subject: Just got the cookbook in the mail. What a treat! Felt like my birthday. I’ve given it a quick look through, and I will be trying some of those recipes at the little house in the big woods. Happy eating!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have vast respect for weeds. I’ve read enough to know that deeply rooted weeds show up when the ground is too compacted, that other weeds show up to add nutrients to the soil based on its deficiencies. It feels crude to pull these vibrant plants up (although I do) when I understand that dirt isn’t meant to be bare. Somehow it eases my conscience to let a few acres run wild, as Nature intends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • bobraxton says:

      Matthew 13:24-30

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    • Bill says:

      That’s my philosophy as well. I’d prefer to let them alone, and I freely admit that they have a better claim on the soil than I do, but I tell myself that I’ve partnered with the vegetables and it is my responsibility to protect them and allow them to thrive. Like you, I always leave areas where the “weeds” are free from my interference.

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  11. Coming from the healthcare sector, I completely resonate with the white blood cells analogy. WBC’s, as we call them, are extremely valuable in fighting off anything that shouldn’t be there so the body can do whatever it needs to, in an effort to be as balanced as possible. We call it homeostasis. Your quote about the weeds/dump is an exquisite image of environmental homeostasis.

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    • Bill says:

      The analogy resonated with me when I thought about it. I really like thinking about it in as homeostasis. I’ll be using that one for sure. πŸ™‚

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