mutatis mutandis

A succession of drizzly days has discouraged the crows in my corn patch, to my everlasting gratitude.  I’m not the only grateful one.  Zillions of non-corn seeds gladdened themselves out of dormancy into robust and active life.

Weeds.  Everybody who’s coped with them, has an opinion.  Among these quotes, I find thoughts from:

  • Donald Culrose Peattie “What is a weed?  I have heard it said that there are sixty definitions.  For me, a weed is a plant out of place.”
  • Doug Larson  “A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.”

What might the environmental humanities have to say about weeds, I wonder?

  • Socially, “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”–A.A. Milne
  • Historically, “We can in fact only define a weed, mutatis mutandis, in terms of the well-known definition of dirt – as matter out of place.  What we call a weed is in fact merely a plant growing where we do not want it.”  ~E.J. Salisbury, The Living Garden, 1935
  • Culturally, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” –Masanobu Fukuoka, One-Straw Revolution, 1978.

Fukuoka’s natural farming calls for no cultivation at all.  None.  Not a hoe, not by hand, not with chemicals.  Compare that to the conventional wisdom of clean-cultivation, which you may recall led to that travesty of agriculture, the Dust Bowl, which airlifted Oklahoma real estate clear to Greenland.

That’s quite a spectrum.  Looks like I could make a case for all weeds, or no weeds, or any amount of weeds in between.

One thing is clear to me:  my corn patch, which not many years ago was a cow pasture, is certainly going to have weeds.  Weed seeds persist for years.  Every time I hill my corn, I turn up seeds dropped by weeds from last decade.  That’s a heavy burden of inheritance to overcome, and if I longed to see clean brown soil punctuated only by monocrop corn, I should certainly despair of success.

If I’m going to despair about anything, it surely won’t be over something as minor as a corn patch.  Besides, my objective is not to produce the maximum corn possible on a little patch of ground–there are research universities to do that sort of thing.   My aim is to grow some beautiful corn for my horses, in exchange for some of my time in the garden.  I’ll knock back the worst of the weeds as my other life demands permit, and take comfort from Thomas Fuller, 17th century clergyman:  “A good garden may have some weeds.”


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