For the most part, my husband and I were raised as city people. A half-acre lot was plenty for our folks. They had their vegetable gardens and rosebushes. Brent’s dad even had some fruit trees. But our homes were situated in suburban neighborhoods (in Nashville and Knoxville, respectively) with weekly garbage pickup and streetlights and city buses and access to nearby interstates, not out in the country.
Now we still live in a city surrounded by neighborhoods, but we have a little bit of land—almost 5 acres—and sometimes our citified upbringing surfaces. We accidentally neglect parts of our property, and then a Saturday free of obligations rolls around and we spend all day catching up. Mowing and weed-eating, digging up unwanted plants and trimming back hedges. We get to work, sweating and toiling like we’re preparing for the arrival of royalty to our humble village.
Last Saturday, I decided to tackle the forest of weed trees growing unchecked below a line of tall pines along our driveway. I used everything in our gardening tool arsenal: long-handled loppers, an electric hedge trimmer, a chainsaw, and a small hatchet. Many of those weeds I drive past every day had grown taller than me. Some of their trunks were thick, as much as 6-inches in diameter. How did this uninvited grove grow right under my nose?
I suppose I was looking elsewhere, my mind wandering, sussing out both the important and unimportant, and the weeds just became the expected backdrop. They were green, so I didn’t look too closely. If I had, I would’ve seen thorns and ivy snaking around the trunks of the pine trees. I wasn’t heeding the Scriptures which remind me to be watchful. “Dressed and ready with my lamps trimmed and burning,” as Jesus told his followers. “Ready to answer when the master knocks on the door.” I was caught off-guard by what can develop when I’m not vigilant.
But it’s not always just our negligence or laziness, those weed trees suddenly towering over us. Sometimes we actually invite the invasive and insidious. Take kudzu, the widespread vine from Asia, for example. It was introduced to the U.S. at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia as an ornamental plant which could be handy for shading front porches. It was eventually seeded all over the country to combat soil erosion in the face of the Depression-era dust storms. The government actually paid farmers to plant it.
At first, it seemed like a good idea and who could blame them? It grew quickly, could be fed to livestock, and smelled like grape bubblegum. But now we see what happens when kudzu goes unchecked. Without cattle to graze on it and keep the vine controlled, it chokes out the nearby native plants. We see it cascading by highways, mountains of green originally planted there to fill in the gashes made by road crews. There seems to be no stopping it. (Although the Japanese kudzu bug, which somehow traveled to a garden near the airport in Atlanta, according to a fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine, is working hard to suck the juices from the vine and may reduce the spread of the invasive plant.)
Nature is a reminder of God’s creativity and majesty and power, but it can also be a metaphor to apply to our day-to-day lives. Even the weeds can teach us. As I hacked away at those vile weed trees on Saturday, I pledged that I would do better at keeping them in check. I made promises to my Lord and myself that I would be vigilant, both in my landscaping and my life.