If My Country Were a Garden
I’m not an intellectual.
Friends send me urgent New York Times articles about current events, and I skim them, consumed with guilt and shame because I know — I know! ‒ this is critical stuff. That we are teetering precariously at a pivotal moment. I wish I were more highbrow, that I had the interest and ability to thoughtfully compare and analyze relevant facts, to truly understand historical references, to argue and debate. But I don’t.
When I try to focus ‒ to concentrate, damn it! ‒ on the news, as dire as it is, my mind drifts into daydreams of my next outdoor project. What might need pruning or watering. What might be ready to bloom or harvest.
I’m a gardener, not a scholar.
My favorite places are half-wild: shaded and sheltered by towering trees, thick with overgrown shrubs, dense with perennials and reseeding annuals. They hop with birds, buzz with bees, flutter with butterflies. These places are like our country at its best: a colorful, complex, diverse, multi-layered haven for natives and immigrants, artists and administrators and accountants, outlaws and conformists, church-goers, pagans, and atheists all chattering and scolding one another, scurrying about their lives.
Even the best gardens have a few weeds, which after all, are just plants you didn’t intend to include.
Weeds are pests that pop up, unbidden, into your envisioned paradise. Some are innocuous. Oxalis, with its peppery stems and cheerful yellow blossoms, smothers your groundcovers and then has the grace to die back till next year. Reseeding annuals like sweet-smelling alyssum or sky blue forget-me-nots insinuate themselves into your affections with a rogue’s charm as you pluck them from the path. Even mint has redeeming qualities, its sharp refreshing scent compensating for its unapologetic ambitions.
Certain weeds, though, are downright sinister, single-mindedly smothering one’s darlings like an invading fascist monoculture. Blackberries engulf my favorite climbing rose, glossy privets muscle out the flowering cherry, a scourge of ivy consumes the pansies.
Where I garden, the most intractable invader is Bermuda grass. The roots of this pernicious pest can extend as deep as six feet into the soil; I’m surprised it hasn’t overrun the whole world. Eradication isn’t an option: a single jointed rhizome remaining after a cleansing purge can reestablish an entirely new infestation. Dig it, burn it, cover it with plastic, even spray it with herbicide, once you have Bermuda, you will battle it forever. Your best hope is suppression.
The Boys-Who-Should-Be-Ashamed and their ilk are the Bermuda grass of our fertile garden nation.
The folks who defiled the Capitol last week weren’t planted by the founding fathers. These people snuck in from the darkest corners of the human psyche and took root while we weren’t looking.
We’ve always had infestations here and there, but until recently these human weeds seemed largely dormant. Now it appears they have the potential to choke out everything we ever tended and loved. We should have been looking, but we didn’t want to. Now we have to, because we can’t unsee what we saw. Those images of sacrilege and mayhem, the wanton violation of our most sacred democratic principles. We’ll never rid ourselves entirely of Bermuda grass or its terrifying human counterpart, those who would choke out the rule of law. But it’s time to get in there with our shovel.
Bermuda grass thrives where desertification occurs.
Strip the soil of its fertility and remove competing greenery, and you’ve created ideal conditions for its hostile takeover. To combat it, we must enrich the soil of our critical thinking and plant new forests of tolerance, empathy, and respect. Above all, we must be vigilant. Hatred is not a weed any of us, intellectuals or gardeners, can turn our backs on.