Channeling Carl Spackler I start out with a dangerously sharp four pronged implement of destruction and the fervent belief that I'm tackling no more than undesirable rhizomes and maybe some grass and stuff - because there is always grass and stuff. I was warned about the blackberries but I was wearing my barbed wire gloves and long pants, so that's good, right? Truthfully, the blackberries weren't the problem. Shit to remember: All Things Are Subjective and barbed wire gloves will only take you so far.
This started out as a conversation over cocktails on the deck one evening. My father claims - and we honestly believe him - that he cannot tell one weed from another. In other words, they are all weeds and some of them have nice flowers. He is particularly fond of Foxglove and I don't tell him what it's used for because we don't need another kitchen sink experiment. He also believes we've got a porcupine (we have a groundhog) and a healthy dose of digitalis might be a good alternative to shooting it with a 35 Smith & Wesson since that turned out to be ineffective, plus he got in trouble for discharging a firearm at 2 AM. In the dark. Aside from the Foxglove, he can identify the Lupine because it's big and purple and astonishingly prolific. He can spot a tomato plant from twenty yards because of the cages. He knows two kinds of fruit bush because he is required to pick the berries in the summer. He doesn't really mind; one type provides the ample supply of blueberries for his pancakes and the other mysteriously turns into cassis.
My father can smell a zucchini from six tenths of a mile, which would be the intersection of VT 17 and our road. THAT plant holds still and can be decimated by emptying the chamber and reloading four or five times. Unfortunately everything else in the patch goes with it. He also knows that he does not cut the grass. S cuts the grass. They tell me this was the agreement when she started building gardens but I'm pretty sure it's because he ran over the Black-eyed Susans in full bloom.
Cocktails on the deck: he looks out at the nearest tree line and points to what amounts to a small field of Lupine and most likely Lilies, Bee Balm, Irises, and a few wayward Foxgloves. My father points in the general direction and tells me that thing needs to be weeded. It's bugging the shit out of him. I look at the Lupine field and tell him I don't see any weeds. "There!" he tells me, "Right down there! It's a god damned eyesore is what it is!"
"Daddy. I don't see any weeds."
"They're out there, I see them. They're biding their time. Give it another week or two and you won't be able to miss them."
I had a quick look the next morning but didn't see too much other than some tall grass coming up here and there which wouldn't be a problem, I'm thinking, except for the overcrowding of what turns out to be naturalized Lupines. Lupines, I discovered, are downright magical. They self seed prolifically, they FIX NITRATES OUT OF THE AIR!!! and they are a rhizome which means they can and will behave just as badly as thistle. We don't care. They are our favorite and we can mow them down when they make a run on the actual lawn. I think it must have rained because I didn't go down until the end of the week, three or four days at best. S said maybe start at the back and work around the Bee Balm and this turned out to be the reconnaissance mission that summoned Carl Spackler.
There is a difference between lawn and meadow grass. The root system of lawn grass can be hacked to pieces and pulled up one chunk at a time. It might take some work but you'll be left with a fine sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. All that nicely turned soil and that huge pile of dying grass composting quietly in its corner and your newly excavated garden bed is ready to go. I don't need no damn tiller! Meadow grasses have a root system that spreads outward all tangley and insistent. I would imagine they are particularly fond of nitrate fixing flowers; intertwining root systems in a plant orgy that would scandalize Nero. In other words, you cannot pull one without damaging the other.
Unlike Mr. Spackler, I am deeply concerned for the plants we would like to thrive in that very large bed (small meadow). I discovered very quickly that anything wanting saving had to be carefully swept back and out of the way. A well-established Lupine is unlikely to notice it's being pushed about. Same with the Bee Balm, the Phlox, and what I'm really hoping are, indeed, Lilies and not another evil weed masquerading (THEY DO THIS ALL THE TIME!). I quickly established a routine that went:
- Lift and separate
- Stab the shit out of what hasn't been lifted and separated
- Sit on my ass and pry that shit out of the ground
Did I mention my barbed wire gloves? Totally required for the job. I ended up on my belly, crawling through the underbrush, and shoving my arms deep into the soil as if I was digging up end of the season potatoes except the ground didn't actually give. It took two hours to cut a circular path and I don't rest when I'm channeling Carl. Until I crossed into the second half of the circle, I was tossing everything onto a large sheet. I dragged that sheet right up to the entrance and there it stopped. When I stood up, after the first hour and half the circle, there was a mountain and the sheet had vanished. I went back to the beginning and proceeded to attack in a clockwise rotation. The meadow grass and subjectively benign blackberry bramble got tossed over my shoulder creating a second mountain and a new compost pile.
When I'd completed the circle, which was meant to be a patch test, like the one you do on your upholstery before you clean it, I was wondering about Carl's C4 and where I might get some. Carl formed them into groundhogs and gophers and rabbits, attached fuses and blew the shit out of a golf course. I was considering blowing the shit out of a small meadow that just happened to be home to some very pretty flowers. I decided to walk away quietly and think some more in the morning. I was caked with dirt. I mean caked, the sort of caked where you hose your clothes down before they even think about the laundry room. Caked where you hose yourself down before you even think about that thirty foot walk to the closest shower.
The longest shower I take these days is barely five minutes. I scrubbed for twenty and gave up. I got dressed and headed into town. I needed to acquire cash before I fell down; I'd be needing it first thing in the morning. On the way into town I wandered into the grocery store and came out with a bottle of tomato juice and a dozen eggs (Daddy was out of eggs). Since the liquor store happened to be right next door, I wandered in there and got myself a bottle of vodka. Fifteen minutes later I walked into the kitchen and declared it a Bloody Mary Day. It was 2 PM.
I drank my Bloody Mary on the deck and snarled at the meadow and also realized that meadow didn't just pop up this year. I don't know when that plot was last cultivated but S thinks a good many years. I cried for a bit, called Carl back, and got crafty. Nasty Varmints...
I can't do it this year, it's too damn late in the season, but next year I can put in enough invasives to push that shit back. There are things out there that will consume a meadow, left to their own devices. They're also lovely and highly desirable assuming you KNOW you have to beat them into submission every year.
What I can do this year is crawl back in there, on my belly, with a very sharp knife and cut the roots about two inches below the soil. See, here's what happened, what you can't see in the photograph, for every enormous chunk I cut up and pulled, enough of the surrounding root systems came with it and by morning much of what I'd pushed aside was dead.
I have plans. So many plans.