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Tending the weeds

How words change our experience of living.

Honestly I am super remiss when it comes to tending the weeds that grow all around the little cottage where we live. At present, the only areas that get my real attention are the ones I look at every evening, as I sit on our back porch admiring blue wrens and thinking, God, I really need to get onto that. Or, the ones I have to wrestle my way through to get to wherever it is I’m going. The weeds that thrive are the ones at the front of the house that I look at (or try to not look at) when I’m reversing out the driveway. These weeds are rampant. For now I’ve accepted them, but I do occasionally plot their demise, and then almost immediately feel overwhelmed by where to start and what snakes I might encounter.

A metaphor perhaps for how we live with the so-called weeds within us?

But the notion of plants being classified as ‘weeds’ (as I’m reminded by my wisened and beautiful best mate / neighbour / gardening artisan friend) is a subjective thing. As a former city slicker there’s been countless times I’ve remarked on the beauty of a flower only to be told that it was in fact, a weed. LOL.

The Oxford dictionary defines a weed as ‘a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.’

In Wikipedia it’s described as ‘ a plant considered undesirable in a particular situation, growing where it is not wanted. The concept of weeds is particularly significant in agriculture, where the aim is growing crops or pastures of a single species, or a mixture of a few desired species.’

Hmm, sounds a little like the mono-culture of positivity that can creep in, drowning out some of the other 'less desirable but necessary' emotions that need to be expressed. I wonder, was there a time before the concept of ‘weeds’?

In their research paper Speaking About Weeds: Indigenous Elders’ Metaphors for Invasive Species and Their Management Bach & Larsen note, ‘Discourse about invasive species is dominated by terms and metaphors that convey nationalistic, aggressive and militaristic meanings (Sagoff,1999; Larson, 2007; Keulartz and van der Weele, 2008). This opposition to invasive species promotes war-like management to ‘battle’ and ‘fight’ against them (Larson, 2005).

This really struck me with its likeness to our own personal wars with our inner critics and wounded parts. The language & metaphors (I’m beating myself up, I’m at war with myself, I’m battling all these feelings) reflecting a similar feeling of the oppositional forces in our own inner environment.

Bach and Larsen go on to say that ‘the recommendation from scholars was to ‘seek alternative metaphors for invasive species and their management that bypass nationalism, aggression and militarism (Peretti, 1998; Keulartz and van der Weele, 2008; Larson, 2010;Dwyer, 2011; Tassin and Kull, 2013). …that this might open up new management possibilities that reconnect with a deeper conservation ethic (Larson 2005, 2011; Dwyer, 2011).

And then things get even more interesting. In their research Bach and Larsen speak to both rangers and elders to understand the cultural metaphors used to describe weed management. They found Aboriginal elders did not use militaristic terms. They used terms with low or no value judgment, like ‘introduced’ to describe any plant that had arrived on country in hand with colonialism. The weeds’ ‘introduction’ was relational to the humans who brought and their use for it, and explored with curiosity.

Although most weeds were recognised as introduced, some were still considered to ‘belong on’ or ‘belong to’ particular sites or types of country. Elders suggested that this is because ‘belonging’ can develop over time. They addressed this directly by observing that nothing could ever come to belong if nativeness or localness was its absolute arbiter.

Bach and Larsen state that ‘Elders described weeds as cheeky, and those in the wrong place were ‘to be watched’ and used the framework of ‘healthy country’ to consider a weed’s impact. Through this framework the effect of a weed was judged in terms of whether it positively, negatively or neutrally affected the health of country.’

The reference to cheeky makes me laugh.

I wonder what it would feel like in ourselves (our country) to relate to the tricky or difficult voices within as cheeky, or parts that require ‘watching’? Perhaps instead of experiencing weeds we’d recognise that some of these voices protect us? Maybe if we try on a framework that reduces the use of judgemental war-like terms we might manage our own weeds in a way that allows some belonging to ourselves ‘over time’?

As Tyson Yunkatporta would say, how about a 'thought experiment' - what if we allow all the messy voices and complexities to belong, where none are cast out but rather 'watched' for choke hazards!


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