I set off for the community garden, with a stack of comically stacked boxes in my arms.
Cardboard boxes are the best thing for weeds. You can flatten them into a long rectangle, then place them on the weed patch, weighted down with a brick or something. In two weeks this patch will be weed free and you can move the cardboard to the next patch. The community garden is almost overgrown with weeds: dandelion and plantain and tall grass, bindweed and poke and an itchy plant that I don’t recognize. All these plants have their uses; I especially like dandelions. But they get out of control.
I was the only soul working at the community garden most of the time I showed up there. It’s still brand new. Most of the people who help him have a regular job during the weekdays. I’m the one who has afternoon hours to shovel dirt in raised beds and pull out perennial weeds. But I’m not strong enough to completely hold back the weeds. They are waist high in the half of the garden that is fallow, and they encroach on the half where the mulch and raised beds are. So I picked up my box.
In front of the door, the harasser neighbor was watching. She likes to hide behind the tall bushes that divide our properties, waiting for someone to come out. As I walked out with my boxes, she yelled the usual insults. “R*t*rd! Sit it! R*t*rd! Go to the r*t*rd factory!”
“We showed the pictures of you on our porch on Martin Luther King Day to the neighbors, intruders,” I said – imagining myself brave, even though inside I was shaking.
It worked. She was shocked into silence for a moment.
I rushed around the corner, praying she wouldn’t follow me, and she didn’t.
For a moment, I flattened some cardboard and laid it over the weeds, imagining my neighbor was a bindweed sprout. Then I shoveled dirt into the flowerbeds, furiously, blowing steam, until I was exhausted.
Later that week, my strawberries were destroyed by accident.
We have a nice neighbor who mows our lawn for us so the harassing neighbor won’t attack us again. She is obsessed with the dividing line between our gardens, and whenever we mow nearby she comes out to harass and sometimes mug and beat. The police have informed us that it is our fault for not learning to get along with them and will not do anything. But the other neighbor tries to help us by cutting our grass after cutting his, and we are very grateful to him.
A few nights ago he came when it was dark. He accidentally crushed my field of strawberries, the one I planted in 2020 when I was hoping the neighbor would leave us alone. It had been full of new green berries, just ready to ripen in the sun. Now it was bare earth without leaves.
I cried for a long time.
I’ve had a lot of worries this year. I had many severe panic attacks. But that was the first real scream I’ve had in months, and strawberries everywhere. I cried until I was sick, then I snuck out into the garden again.
I prayed to Saint Michael as I ran past the neighbor’s house and, miraculously, she didn’t come out. I shoveled the soil into the last of the garden beds, wondering if more gardeners would show up and if anyone would come and carry the logs from the old tree. I was tending to the first shoots of my giant sunflowers. I was worried about the fungus growing in the potato barrel. I looked for signs of corn coming.
I explored the back part of the garden, where the giant weeds are. There are asparagus, although they are starting to grow. I was told that there used to be strawberry plants near the big tree stump, but I couldn’t find any. And I found a vine, growing on the back fence, tangled with the most aggressive poison ivy I’ve ever seen. There would be no way I could go to grapes this summer without blistering myself.
I went home and thought about it for a while.
I got out my crayons and did an art project, which I hadn’t done since about November – since before the last time I cried, in fact. I wanted to make a drawing of this poison ivy tangled with a vine. And I did.
Accedentes, autem servi patris familias dixerunt ei, “Domine, nun bonum semen seminasti in agro tuo? Unde ergo habet zizania?
Matthew 13:27, from the Vulgate. The King James version translates it “And the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Lord, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? where does the tares come from?
The tares are vetch, a weed that looks like wheat when they are both young. It won’t fool anyone when the wheat and vetches are older. In my experience, the same thing happens with poison ivy and all other kinds of vines: you take people who don’t know anything about nature on a hike, and they call everything poison ivy and s away from it. They will not touch the bindweed, or the wild grape, or the good grape, or the Virginia creeper, imagining that all of this is poison ivy.
There was no space in my sketchbook to calligraph the master’s dry response: “Inimicus homo hoc fecit. An enemy did this.
There was no place to write down his strange instructions: let the wheat and the tares grow side by side until it was time to bring in the crops, just in case you confused a good healthy plant with a bad grass. The master is clearly a miser who can’t stand the thought of a single good stalk of wheat being wasted, which is good news if you’re wheat. But the master is also a ridiculously bad gardener, because those weeds will grow up to his thighs in no time, and they will ruin his whole crop. Does he care about wheat or not?
There was no answer given, in the parable, as to how this arrangement came about in the first place: who was this enemy, how he came to disagree with the master, why the master did not not taken more care to keep it out of the garden in the first place. He was just. Not at the very beginning – the beginning of everything was the master sowing the good seed. But some time later there was an enemy, and now the garden is a mess, and there are no plans to clean it up yet.
I didn’t put any of that in the illustrations either.
I think it’s appropriate to leave it as a question for now: Where does the chaff come from?
Image via Wikimedia commons