Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bound and Determined

Bindweed Roots

 Forked ropes the color of old teeth, the texture of pleather, the thickness of my middle finger, the length of my husband’s belts, splayed in garden beds, choking the roots of raspberries and ferns. This is the image floating in my consciousness each night when I close my eyes to sleep: Bindweed (wild morning glory) roots.

Above ground the stems, ranging in thickness from embroidery floss to sport-weight yarn, wrap themselves around berry canes and rhododendron trunks, flower stalks and garden stakes, strangling branches, obscuring flowers and fruit.

Earlier in the season, before I knew about their subterranean network, I simply yanked at the stems, satisfied when they snapped off just below the soil, and wrapped them, like errant thread, into wadded balls, and tossed them in my yard waste bin.

But they came back; of course they came back. My mother always told me to pull weeds out by the roots, demonstrating the technique when I was a teen and her affectionately named garden slave. I held a trowel, she held a kitchen knife, and with it taught me how to dig down next to the offending plant, how to loosen the soil around its roots from all directions, how to goad it into surrendering its grip on the dirt, how to ease it from the soil.

Those weed roots were thicker and deeper than I’d imagined.

I knew this, but forgot or chose not to remember, too overwhelmed by this half-an-acre of neglected garden, I was looking for quick and easy fixes.

My mother, whose skill and tenacity in the garden have increased exponentially since my teens, visited in July and we toured a handful of gardens during Bainbridge in Bloom, admiring the variety of plants in their planned, pruned places. I secretly rejoiced when I saw a strand or two of bindweed or tiny clump of buttercup (my other nemesis) in the manicured spaces.  

Then we toured my garden together, my mother inspired as I was, by the possibilities in this space. Much of what Mr. Nunamaker planted here I saw in other island gardens and also at the famous Butchart Gardens in August.

Knowing I could benefit from a sense of accomplishment, my mother, before she left, suggested that I tackle one small area of the garden at a time, instead of flitting from one section of yard to another, as I’d been doing.

And so, for the last three months, on most days, from late morning until the sky grows dark (ten pm at the solstice, seven pm now), I have been outside, crawling on hands and knees, leaning and shoving my way under branches, sitting in dirt, hair filling with leafy detritus, brushing spiders off my shoulders, shoes and pants, listening to books on my ipod, wielding my yellow-handled serrated trowel like a weapon until my hands are cramped, my arms numb through the night, eradicating the bindweed and buttercup from my garden one square inch at a time.

The raspberry bed overrun by bindweed and buttercup

Summer has come and gone—the driest summer here in years, which being from California and not the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t realize until my rhododendrons’ leaves curled in thirst—and I have become intimate with my environment in the most literal sense, sliding through my garden on my rear-end, my hands and knees, learning which areas (rhubarb and raspberry patches) have light, dry, amended soil, where I can remove the roots in long strings, and which spots (along the street, behind the house) have damp, chunky dirt, forcing me to wrestle mud to remove roots in short sections.

the raspberry bed redeemed
I have been single-minded in my war against The Evil Bindweed. I have won some skirmishes, but not the war, not even close, but the season for this battle is waning. Soon the rain will come, soon the temperatures will drop, soon I will move indoors to finish painting and install flooring and light fixtures.

In the coming season I will open my writers’ retreat to guests, and write something myself. In the coming season, I hope and pray that my husband will find a job.

In the coming season we will bind our time and determination to new tasks, to new ways of becoming familiar with our environment. We will develop a new rhythm, one where I track less dirt into the house and brush fewer spiders from my hair.  

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