Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Weeding in the Rain

You would not regard what I did on Sunday as crazy if you understood how I think. I pulled weeds in the rain. Not a downpour or a thunderstorm (please, that would be crazy). Just some steady and effective weed pulling in a gentle, steady rain.

Normally I detest pulling weeds. I can think of few things that make me feel futile in the same way that ineffective weeding does. Digging around and then tugging at a pesky, ill-placed plant only to hold its top in my hand while its roots remain in the soil perturbs me. What an unholy annoyance. That is why it takes what I consider near-ideal conditions before I commune with Mother Earth in a weed pulling session.

Moist soil and cool air temperatures. That’s what I like; Sunday’s early afternoon forecast provided both criteria with the indication of rain later. Consequently, while Mark nestled down for an afternoon nap (an enticing option), I dressed in old jeans and a sweatshirt, put on Mark’s yard work shoes, found a pair of gloves, grabbed a paper grocery sack, and then headed to the garage for my favorite garden tool: a long-handled dandelion weeder. My goal was to finish weeding our flowerbeds before it rained, and I did. Sort of.

After emptying two sacks of weeds into our waste can – an amount that represented the two flowerbeds I had planned to tackle – I took a bathroom and water break. Standing upright let me know my body was not protesting as much as I had feared, so I allowed myself to contemplate conquering the worst weed offenders in our yard. Because I had been wildly successful at uprooting the wayward weeds near our house, I allowed myself to think about this loftier goal. Sunday’s conditions promised even greater success should I dare to tame the king of weeds: dandelions, a species so fierce that I have dealt with them by ignoring them. They have freely roamed through both our back and front yards, but on Sunday, I sensed my fierceness surpassed theirs.

Rain had made weeds slip out nearly whole, and the cool weather had kept mosquitoes, wasps and bees hidden away. My fight was on, but as I headed back outside, so was the rain.

Mark: (now awake from his nap) “Well, I guess you are done for the day.”

Me: “I don’t think so. It’s not much. I’ll be fine.”

Mark: “You have tomorrow.”

Me: “But I’m motivated today.”

Our backyard grows under the canopy of a maple tree and the long, sweeping dome of a willow. I focused my efforts on a rectangular section underneath the willow where the rain only felt like mist. With my head bowed to the task of my hands, no water drops hit my glasses, and my makeshift ponytail wicked any water off my head and onto the hood of the sweatshirt gathered at the nape of my neck. One by one, the dandelions left their dens, tossed into refuse.

Joy against wild. I was wet but still warm. I was winning.

I dug, pulled, and threw clusters aside, methodically moving within the boundaries of the canopy - two more soggy sacks of weeds, but then my neighbor pulled into his driveway. I looked up to see him looking at me. He had the benefit of a ball cap to deflect rain from his eyes. Water now splashed onto the lens of my eyeglasses. He blurred as I continued to look his direction; I felt the need to explain.

Me: (using as convincing a voice as possible) “This really isn’t as crazy as it looks. I know it’s raining, but not hard. It’s not so bad under the willow.”

Him: (from his location not under the willow) “Well, I wondered what the dogs were barking at earlier. They must have seen you.”

Me: “I just wanted to get rid of as many of these dandelions as possible. They pull so easy now.”

Him: (probably wondering why he’s talking to me long enough to get soaked himself now) “Yes, they probably are coming up pretty easy. Well … take care.”

I was beginning to realize how muddy and wet I was, but I wasn’t willing to quit not yet. My neighbor, perhaps giving in to his soaked condition, turned back for more conversation. He shared that he had just gotten a brew kit and his first batch of beer was about ready. Would we like some? Does Mark drink beer?

Me: “No, Mark doesn’t drink it, and neither do it. But thanks anyway.”

Him: “Just thought I’d offer.”

I had looked up long enough for my eyeglasses to become pooled with water. In fact, my forehead had taken a full hit of drops that had merged into streams and cascaded onto my eyelids. I had nothing dry enough to blot my eyes and could barely watch my neighbor turning to enter his house. When I lowered by head, attempting to resume my previously fierce attacks, I couldn’t blink the bleariness away.

I don’t know if I would have tried harder, because Mark’s voice demanded my attention. I looked up one more time. Mark now stood where my neighbor had moments earlier – only Mark held an umbrella and a posture that told me he meant business.

Mark: “What in the heck are you doing? You are soaked.”

A vague recollection of hearing the town’s clock tower strike five chimes shortly before I had talked with my neighbor helped me understand that Mark had been keeping track of time while I had not. I had been in the rain for more than two hours. While I had, at some point earlier, reassured him there was no thunder or lightning, I had neglected to hear the force of the rain become more intense.

Me: “It’s not been that bad really. I’m getting rid of these dandelions.”

Mark: “Don’t you think it’s time to come in?”

I wasn’t cold. I didn’t care about being muddy or wet. All I needed to do was to figure out how to see through my glasses and I’d still be good to go. I didn’t want to stop, but I knew I should. Mark was standing in the rain with an umbrella. He doesn’t like umbrellas.

Me: “Yes, I’ll come in. But I need to clean up first. I’ll come in. Promise.”

Mark: “You’ve done good work, Joy, but enough is enough.”

I left my most recent pile of pulled weeds on the sidewalk, but carried my weeding tool to the side of our home. While the rain was coming harder, it was no match for the force of the water spigot. A forceful rush pushed mud from my favorite tool and then I turned my feet into positions so it could do the same for Mark’s way-oversized-on-me work boots.

I loved watching the proof of my dirty work coming clean. I also loved having a husband who kept track of my best interests when I didn’t.

Why had I stayed out so long in such undesirable conditions? Many reasons.

Weeding was my chosen Sunday activity. The conditions had been favorable for me, and I had gotten swept up in my task. My opportunity to beat the dandelions – even if just for an afternoon – had come.

Besides, Mark had teased me about not doing yard work. He sometimes would intimate that I thought it was beneath me, but I know he knows better. He knows that I grew up working in my yard – a substantial piece of land that took the better part of a day to mow along with a garden to tend, bushes to trim at regular intervals and flowerbeds to plant and weed on every side of my childhood home. I was the oldest child of parents who grew up on farms. They didn’t use the word “chore.” There were expectations. Weeding on Sunday was my chance to remind Mark who he had married. A woman who doesn’t like to be beaten or quit.

There were other more muted reasons I kept pulling weeds. In the beginning, before the rain, a breeze would regularly waft the scent of Lilies of the Valley, a flower that makes me think of my Grandma Delma and Grandpa Fred. When I planted them at our home, I thought of my grandparents. Bunches of the tiny white bells used to grow by their home and my father had transplanted some to my childhood home also. They are hopeful signs of Spring for me. Each year I put some in a small green vase that once belonged to my Aunt Lynne. With each fragrant breeze, my grandparents and my aunt, while no longer alive, were present with me.

And there was the wind chime, toning the notes of a B-minor chord as it reminded me of my in-laws who possessed the chimes before us. Its random accompaniment was a constant while I worked until it wasn’t. It stopped once. When it did, I turned 180-degrees to see its wooden center swaying in circles but not hitting any chimes. It did this silent dance for a while. I’m not certain when it began to chime again, but it did. Meanwhile I kept thinking about family members – those no longer alive and those I hope remain with us as long as possible.

Yet the Lilies of the Valley and the chimes were all before the rain began to fall. For some reason I kept on even when most people would not. Mark knew I would. He also understood he would need to come find me when it really started to downpour. I am glad he did.

Weeding wasn’t the unholy annoyance I usually regard it to be on Sunday. Somehow I have the rain to thank for it.

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