Friday, March 29, 2013

The Zen of Monsanto and Weeds

On the whole people might be better off if they threw away the crops they so tenderly raise and ate the weeds they spend so much time exterminating. Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus

I have a fondness for weeds. For the forgotten, dismissed, and marginalized. Anyone who visits my garden in mid-summer probably wonders if I'm just not tending to it. Which is true. I'm not. Partly out of neglect, and partly out of a love of the wild.

When I saw this quote today, the first thing I thought of was Monsanto and the GMO revolution. A revolution not being televised, and one I have zero interest in supporting. Never mind the human dietary consequences, the push by Monsanto and other giant companies to control and manipulate plant life is about murder. About death to the wild diversity that brings our planet alive and makes it what it is.

Murder to the point of extinction for short term profit. It has to be one of the stupidest moves humanity's elite has made throughout it's history.

I had a poem about Monsanto published recently at Turning Wheel Media. One of the things it speaks to is our human desire for comfort and ease, and how giant corporations like Monsanto thrive on that. In fact, some of us become to attached to their products that it's akin to having another lover in your life. I recall the mother of my sister's childhood friend who drank a case of Diet Coke daily. You read that right. A case. Maybe not a full a case everyday, but she probably averaged that over the long run. She didn't live to 50. And I'm guessing that even after she found out about the negative health impacts of soda pop, she kept on drinking it. Wedded to it, and the company that makes it.

Weeds are the antithesis of ease and comfort. In the practical sense, their appearance mucks up uniform lawns and tenderly raised garden beds. Psychologically, weedy thoughts can stir up all sorts of emotions, from confusion to perverse desire. Spiritually, it is the lowly weed that frequently blows through the seemingly perfect answer we offer to life's deepest questions. How often have you thought "I've finally got it," only to have some simple and forgotten thing appear right along side the answer, almost as if in mocking.

The lowly dandelion, with it's bright yellow head, can grow in almost any soil, thriving in some of lousiest conditions imaginable. Every spring, I'm amazed at it's early appearance here in Minnesota, when the weather is still up and down, sometimes even poking through fallen snow from the tiniest cracks in sidewalks.

Eliminating weeds means destroying our toughness, tenacity, and flexibility. Whether we do it for profit or out of a mistaken sense that the best food comes from weed free conditions, the results are the same.

When I look back at the history of Buddhism, its best teachers might be considered weeds. Wild and unruly. Their ideas spreading in all directions.

Who the hell could tame someone like Ikkyu or Milarepa? You might, like the best of gardeners, manage some of the mad growth of their life stories, but that's about all.

Apparently Milarepa was fond of drinking nettle tea. So much so that his skin turned green in some accounts. You might wish to prune that detail away. Seems like anything bordering on supernatural or unexplainable is being pruned away by a lot folks these days. But there's no doubt in my mind that regular consumption of weedy teas changes you. Just as drinking diet Coke changes you.

Weeds remind us of this. They get in the way of our notions that we're separate. That we can keep out anything we don't want to deal with. If Monsanto or some giant oil company poisons the soil 1000 miles away, it impacts all of us. There's no escape.

I've tried cultivating weeds in my garden. Deliberately up-earthing them and giving them a specific home. The only ones that ever survive are the ones replanted in a mess. They respond to uniformity by shriveling up and dying.

If we keep giving in to the push for uniformity, comfort, and ease, we'll go the way of the House of the Hapsburgs. Liberation is a dandelion splitting though the spring soil. Bend down and touch it, breath in the bitter sweet fragrance. This is what you are truly longing for.


Betty said...

I let the weeds grow in my yard as long as they stay under 6". The neighbors hate it, but I live the flowers that show up unexpectedly.

LuLu3156 said...

We just read about weeds in a Suzuki Roshi dharma talk, "So we should not be bothered by the weeds you have in your mind. We should be rather grateful to the weeds you have in your mind because eventually will enrich your practice."

Anonymous said...

Milarepa is my homie. Much love, dog. \|/

24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:

25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went his way.

26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the weeds also.

27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it weeds?

28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the weeds, ye root up also the wheat with them.

30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the weeds, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

31 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:

32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

Anonymous said...

We harvest our nettles, eat them in huge quantities and sell them, too.

Some argue, "You're selling us weeds!" We usually respond with, "You can come pick them for free." Our hands are tingly and numb for hours, well into the night.

Nathan said...

Gotta say, I know that nettle tingling very well. I think everyone should try picking them once, just to learn the plant.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Thank you for this, Nathan.

I've been hearing some enthusiasm from people lately about permaculture, which seems like a kind of knowledgeable orientation to systems that make room for weeds? I also wonder how we can extend this acceptance and affection to "pests" that like to eat the things we grow, or live in our beds or houses. I'm sure some communities have figured out good ways to do this, planting the right pest deterrents and using fences, meticulous care, etc. But it still seems mysterious to me.

Northern California weeds and native grasses are so gorgeous — I hope to soon have some in my now-barren backyard.

Nathan said...

Hi Katie,

One of the main indicators of environmental damage is weed overrun. So, when folks opt to just destroy the weeds, they're failing to get at the roots of the problem, which probably involve soil damage, land disruption, or straight up pollution. Permaculture processes are really about re-building ecosystems. And they recognize that weeds are actually a beneficial part of an ecosystem, whether as soil rebuilders, erosion control, or as pollinators. When an ecosystem - even on a small scale - is more in balance, there's less of a worry about weeds getting out of control. Here's a fun, picture based take on permaculture.