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The mother of all weeds

May is here. It's the month that's supposed to follow April's showers with bunches of flowers, just in time for Mother's Day.

Maybe that's why I feel a little note of sadness when I am outside in our garden pulling up the offspring of mother weeds. April's showers and the newly returned sunlight have summoned all the plants from their wintry rest and they can't wait to show their bright, shiny faces. All over the place.

And here I come and wrench them right out of the ground and fling them onto a heap with the rest of their family and neighbors. Call it tough love — it's spring and that's what you do. You decide who gets to stay in your landscaped space and who doesn't.

"A weed is just a plant you don't want or in a place you don't want it. It's an orphan," says garden educator Lena Hahn-Schuman.

As merciless as it might seem to the poor plants, weeding is actually a balm to the human soul. There is something soothing, calming about sitting on the ground and tending it. My sense is that we are being blessed by the great Earth Mother Gaia who approves of what we are doing.

The same goes for her daughter, Rhea, who is considered to be the mother of the gods as well as the earth. The Romans called her Cybele and celebrations in her honor may very well be the origin of Mother's Day. And besides, as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, "A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."

Lest I give you the wrong impression and startle my wife, I should point out that I spend about four or five hours a year weeding. If that. Gardening is something I look forward to when I retire. It is not something I have managed to include in my present life on a regular basis. But I've spent enough time weeding over the years to appreciate its joys and tedium.

Nowadays, I'm more likely to go at it for an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon. Why, only last week, there I was in my hammock for the first time this year and I leaned over and pulled a few errant slips of greenery out from underneath my perch. That ought to do it for this year. With all the snow and rain, the ground let go of the plants readily so I didn't have to tug too hard and lose my balance.

The deal with weeding, as I understand from people who actually do it, is that you want to pull the weeds out by the roots so they are really gone. If you yank the tops off, it's like giving them a haircut. They'll be back next week. And I won't.

Another part of the weeding process that I spend more time at is using the motorized weed cutter. This isn't exclusively for weeds, it's mainly for tall patches of grass that grow near the street, so an occasional trim is needed to keep the area less attractive to fires.

An ingenious little device, the weed cutter is really just a fat piece of fishing wire spinning around very fast. When the wire wears down, you bang the thing on the ground and a spring-loaded device feeds out more wire. Ours is an electric version, so I don't have to use gasoline to do the job. It makes almost the same amount of noise and I just have to remember not to cut the long cord that snakes behind me. It doesn't help that the cord is dark green.

Then there's the ubiquitous ivy. If we were living at an ancient university, having thousands of leafy tendrils climbing on our walls would be not only tolerated, but venerated. But ivy-covered trees, fences, and garage walls are another matter. I feel like I'm a hero when I go out and rip the ivy away from our oaks, pulling and cutting the tenacious vines back, rescuing the trees so they can "breathe."

In a way, I admire the way ivy just keeps on growing and going like a sprouting version of the energizer bunny. In fact, I admire the weeds too for not giving up. For hanging in there and for coming back, week after week, year after year. They are, after all, living things and like all of life, they have something valuable to teach the rest of us if we take the time to pay attention.

What some people would consider a weed, another person would use for food or medicine.

"A weed is just a flower you haven't made friends with yet."

Which is why I think I will start spending more time outside planting and weeding, now that the sun is out and May is here with Mother's Day and all those orphans.