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shadows of echoes of memories of songs
I'm having more and more trouble finding something I can constrain into just one blog post, something that doesn't just sprout tendrils of arguments all over the place as soon as I get one sentence into it. There's a big long post I've started writing a couple of times now and I've come to the conclusion that it's actually several essays about things I don't know enough about to write them properly, or rather I know the shape of things but I'd need to do some actual planning and fact-checking and re-drafting rather than just writing them off the top of my head, and that's scary because it feels like investing real work in something that will probably never come to anything. Maybe real writers feel like this all the time. Maybe I should have gone for NaNoFiWriMo, non-fiction-writing instead of novel-writing. But I know that when I get to the point of thinking "I'd rather sit on this until I can write it properly" it means I'll probably never write it. Maybe I should make more time to sit on these things decisively until they either suffocate or hatch. Maybe I should just shut up.

I've spent a lot of time recently pulling up nettle roots. The things in our garden that pass for flower-beds (the bits where the lawn completely fails to appear) are so choked with roots that as soon as you turn over a bit of soil it looks like somebody's tried to dig a shallow grave for a macrame bedspread. The nettles keep coming back, but smaller and fewer each time; I don't think I'll ever get rid of all of them, but I think I'll get them under control. The problem is, you see what looks like a tiny nettle (barely an inch high) growing out of the soil, so you pull it from the base of the stem, and up comes a tiny spindly root, and if I don't break off the spindly root I find that it's joined on to a bigger root. So you stick the fork in around and under the bigger root until you can get a good hold on it with my gloved hand, fingers scrabbling through the soil underneath, and you give the bigger root a good solid tug until it starts to come out of the ground. You pull it up until it hits another root going over it, and either break it off there or try to pull that one up as well... the second root turns out to be lodged under a third root, which is thicker than a tree-trunk and buried deep in the soil. Pulling that up, bits of it break off; you dig down to try to get them out and find that they're buried under more roots. Eventually you get to what feels like a decent run of root which isn't trapped under something, and as you pull it you watch the soil parting, and the lawn parting, like a zip unzipping, and the root rips a line through the grass for a couple of feet before breaking off with an unsatisfying little snap which tells you that there's plenty more nettle roots down there, oh yes, and they're just biding their time. The other trick they play on you is to creep under the fence, so you pull one up and it peels backwards and backwards and lands right up against the fence, at which point you can either start tunnelling under into next door's garden like a badger, or you can break it off (watching bits of rotten fence splinter off soggily now that they're no longer supported by nettle roots) with an exasperated sigh. By this time you've forgotten all about the first root you were trying to pull up, but it's still there, probably growing even while your back's turned. Digging at a bit of apparently clear soil, I find another knot of rat-tailed roots to start picking apart; the Gordian approach does not work.

It's absolutely neverending, and yet somehow satisfying -- I think perhaps it's because it's a physical metaphor for all the things my mind gets stuck on: the arguments I try to construct where I get distracted by all the possible rebuttals, tilting at all the straw men who come staggering out of the mist, led astray by the will-o'-the-wisps of other interesting arguments who lead me further and further into the swamps of endless deferral; the projects where each task becomes a mini-project, not merely cans of worms but matryoshka dolls full of many-headed mini-hydras. Because it's a physical task, it doesn't come with all the emotional baggage of guilt and expectation; it's just a thing I can do with my hands. I can see the physical progress in the pile of roots I've excavated (heaped up on a spare recycling-bin lid) and the slightly-clearer soil, but that's not why it's easier, exactly; with less physical tasks I can often see a result: items crossed off a list, RT tickets resolved, link-checking reports coming back with fewer errors. (Ironically, the nettle roots are trying to fix their web, their links, their network, and I'm trying to bring them down; like the internet, they route around damage, rebuild their series of tubes, and all I can do is keep pulling their plugs out of their sockets.) And it's not that it gives me hope that tasks can be finished, because destroying their network is as unfinishable as fixing the web. It's more that it's a thing that I can do with my hands, setting my mind free from the guilt of unfinishable thoughts for a while. Maybe it is just a thing I can do with my hands, and that's enough, without giving it emotional significance. Maybe I am better at pulling things apart than making them grow. Maybe a nettle root is just a nettle root, and my hands are just my hands.

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hairyears From: hairyears Date: November 9th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC) (Link)


Thisss wil help usss yesss... Scrabbling our way UP through the soil and the rootsssses.

You can tell I've had a rotten day at work.
oldbloke From: oldbloke Date: November 9th, 2009 11:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
You /could/ use a systemic weedkiller, or a rotovator, or cover the entire garden in black plastic until the spring. I mean, I know you're getting perverse satisfaction out of the manual labour, but you need to look after your back. You don't want to end up like me!
addedentry From: addedentry Date: November 10th, 2009 08:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, let the girl have her fun! It's a good way to get to know every inch of the garden, too.

We reserve the right to change our minds, of course. The forces of entropy have more time than we do.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 10th, 2009 10:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Your weedkiller evangelism is getting really tiresome. (Are you getting paid commission by Monsanto or something?) It wasn't a post about weedkiller. It wasn't even really a post about gardening. Are you actually just a bot with a couple of trigger words?

I enjoy weeding, I'm getting exercise and fresh air, I don't even feel a strain on my back when I'm doing it. Maybe I'm just fitter than you.

You don't want to end up like me!

You said it.
oldbloke From: oldbloke Date: November 10th, 2009 10:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Two mentions in about two months? Get real.

I got like this because I /didn't/ use it.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 10th, 2009 10:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Two mentions in about two months? Get real.

It is the only time you comment, though. I actually hesitated to write about the garden again because I knew you'd come lumbering in like a big fat point-missing machine.

I got like this because I /didn't/ use it.

Medical science is somewhat quiet on the subject, but I really don't believe that without the regular application of weedkiller I will turn into a boring old man.
1ngi From: 1ngi Date: November 10th, 2009 11:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Rotovator on perennial weeds would be a disaster - chopping all the roots into tiny pieces, which would grow into thousands of new plants.

Sometimes 'elbow grease' is the only sure way.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 10th, 2009 11:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Rotovator on perennial weeds would be a disaster - chopping all the roots into tiny pieces, which would grow into thousands of new plants.

I am glad to have this suspicion confirmed by someone who knows about gardening! :)

Owen's dad has a rotovator which he's promised to lend us, though, & I reckon if I can get the worst of the roots out first then it'd still be worth doing.
1ngi From: 1ngi Date: November 10th, 2009 11:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I know you weren't asking for advice on your post but now the subject has come up...

Yep getting the worst out and then using the rotovator would be a good plan. And then I have one word to say to you: MULCH!

If you mulch over the bits you have done so far, it will suppress weed growth (cocoa shells off the internets is my fave - for a lazy gardener like me, it improves the soil as it biodegrades). Then in the spring, after you've rotowassnamed, no doubt some perennial weeds will show up again and then is the time to consider systemic as it works far better on actively growing plants. Or you could just pull them up again. Or you could hoe them - oh yes another word: HOE! Keep slicing the growing bit off and they will weaken eventually. Buy a really good hoe - it will do you proud.

I thing the gentle approach with a new-to-you garden is a valid one. You get to find plants you want to keep that got trapped in the undergrowth, it helps you get to know your soil - dry bits, stony bits, claggy bits, and it is more sympathetic to any wild life - particularly this time of year.

Can't wait to see it. But don't show me round it unless you can cope with Idea-buzzy-Ingrid who will stand in your garden and go ooo - you've got an xyz bush - you could grow clematis up and then have a wassname underneath it and your veg bed should go there but don't grow Jerusalem artichokes coz they taste pants and and and... :)
brightybot From: brightybot Date: November 10th, 2009 09:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yup, this is correct.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 10th, 2009 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes! Yes!

Your writing is splendid, and your creation of "tried to dig a shallow grave for a macrame bedspread" has made me cry with laughter: I can see that bedspread and your construct is perfect: that's the only thing one could do with such an item, complete with the guilt and surreptitiousness :-).

Uprooting such roots is very satisfying; and to my mind less piffling than some kinds of crafting: knitting, for example. At least when you've attacked a nettlebed you can grow something else in it later and nobody will be moithered with having to declutter the result in ten year's time. (See And Now All This, the Woology chapters...)

If you eventually go for the black plastic get the woven stuff rat her than the heavy film, which will disintegrate and then be less than satisfying as you havet o grub it up.
1ngi From: 1ngi Date: November 10th, 2009 11:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes! Yes!

That phrase stuck out to me too.
htfb From: htfb Date: November 10th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes! Yes!

It's a face pyjama.
brightybot From: brightybot Date: November 10th, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love your description of weeding. It's that combination of perversely satisfying and endlessly frustrating. It certainly never 'done' as some of my colleagues seem to be obsessed with.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 11th, 2009 10:32 am (UTC) (Link)
perversely satisfying and endlessly frustrating

Exactly! (I think that might just be my new manifesto for life!! ;-)

never 'done' as some of my colleagues seem to be obsessed with

Ah -- is this 'done' as in the cult of done? I noticed that seemed to be doing the rounds again...

I think with weeding it's 'done' (in the cult-of-done sense) when you decide to stop. :-) Sometimes saying "I'm going to do an hour of this & then stop" gives you a useful cut-off point. (I'm not sure what other measurable goals for weeding might be... "I'm going to pull up 500 metres of nettle roots"? "I'm going to carry on until there's a 5:1 ratio of soil to roots"? Seems a bit daft. Though I do sometimes wonder how many miles of roots I'd have if I laid them all end to end. Apparently you can weave nettle stems into string! Who knew??)
brightybot From: brightybot Date: November 11th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you laid all the nettle roots end to end they'd reach to the moon and back.
hatmandu From: hatmandu Date: November 12th, 2009 08:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Or they'd circumscribe Belgium. Note to sub: is the perimeter of Belgium really 480,000 miles?
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