gone weeding

July 19th, 2013

arbai-prati11Empty handed, holding a hoe. —Mahasattva Fu

No matter how pretty it might look on a good day, paradise is just a patch of weeds.

What loyal friends, these undesirables that infiltrate the impeccable lawn, insinuate between cracks, and luxuriate in the deep shade of my neglect. Weeds are everywhere, thank heaven, reporting for duty every day. I have quite a bit of help around here but weeds are my most reliable underlings. Where would I be without them? I would run out of reasons to wake up every morning. I would lack motivation and direction. I might consider the job here to be done.

The job here is never done.

As if it isn’t obvious enough, I must confess that in these sixteen years of gardening I have not yet learned how to garden. Oops! By this I mean that I do not know the chemistry of soils or the biology of compost. I have not learned the nomenclature; I do not know the right time or way to prune. My most useful tools are the ones farthest from my hands: sun and water. I have not planted a single thing still standing. In all this time in the yard I have cultivated no worthwhile skills, save one that is decidedly unskilled.

I weed.

I offer this up as a modest qualification because I have noticed how reluctantly most people bring themselves to the task. Weeding is not a popular pastime, even among gardeners. Weeds are the very emblem of aversion. One spring I directed our revered Mr. Isobe to a troublesome spot in the backyard where invasives were spreading through the miniature mondo. He squinted to see what I was pointing to. Subsequently he did not share my alarm, but broke into laughter. “You want me to weed?” I suppose he felt the need to verify that someone of his stature would be asked to stoop to the occasion.  After that, I didn’t ask him again. The weeds were all mine.

While I was casting about for something to do for the rest of my life, as we like to characterize temporary forms of employment, I seized upon a novel scheme. I’d seen how common it was for an otherwise respectable yard to be surrendered over to wilderness for the seeming lack of a spade. And the worse it got, the worse it gets. I suggested to my husband that I start an enterprise—not for landscape design or decoration, for which I was unsuited—but just to weed. I would call it “Just Weeds.” I was inspired, but my husband thought it was beneath me. So instead I do it every day for no pay. This is how your life becomes rich with purpose.


I am going away to sit the final week of Summer Ango with my hard-working sangha at the Hazy Moon Zen Center. I leave you to your own devices with this parting sentiment:

California weather is peaceful and calm. May your days go well.


And look! These are the final days for the early birds to gather for the Boise Plunge retreat in October. I won’t be there unless you are.


  1. Thank you Karen!

    Comment by trisha — July 19, 2013 @ 7:13 am

  2. Karen, this reminds me of a story Pema Chodrin tells about Chogyam Trungpa looking out at a large number of students after a talk. He said: “You are all just perfect, as you are” then he paused, looked around and said: “and you all need a bit of work!”

    Such is the true enlightened state of all of us and our need to continually pull the weeds to regain our oneness, Buddhahood and just simple self in the moment.

    Or were y9u just talking about “weeds”?

    Comment by daniel — July 19, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

  3. […] in the world.  But I was charmed and inspired when, waiting in my inbox this morning, was this lovely post about pulling weeds — a task rather like sweeping the basement stairs and scrubbing the scummy sink.  I […]

    Pingback by weekend reading: how we spend our time | at home with words — July 20, 2013 @ 6:43 am

  4. Your post brings me to my own gardening (or lack thereof) for I am an aspiring gardener of sorts, who doesn’t even own a garden. I stumbled upon Margaret Roache’s “And I Shall Have Some Peace There” strictly guided by spirit. Now, you know her books are about much more than gardening and I’ve often said that she has enriched the soil in the garden of my soul. Her blog, like yours is food for the spirit and in Margaret’s rich garden I discovered you and Katrina and learned to eat healthier and better and move through the seasons we lack in my part of the Land. Who’s to say all that expert advice won’t come in handy if ever I need it to pull some real weeds….. Love your post Karen and always, Thank you!

    Comment by Daisy Marshall — July 20, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

  5. I just love your words. Different words say the same thing…but i love your words best.

    Comment by Kirsten — July 20, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

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