Mugwort is a tenacious weed, growing up to five feet high and covering landscapes with a kudzu-like voracity if not kept in check. The roots are almost as deep as it is tall, making it all but impossible to eliminate. The harshest of chemicals might do the trick, but only if the planets are also aligned in your favor – and what nature-loving farmer wants to use such atrocities? He is left to pull it by hand, one giant fistful at a time.
But here’s the rub: the plants that spread like wildfire on a prairie head first for clay soil. Clay that is nearly concrete in composure, one step above stone. The kind that breaks both backs and spades. When the mugwort stems are pulled, if they can be, the webbed roots shake loose a soft, powdery soil that is rich and crumbly. They perform the impossible alchemy of turning concrete into loam. And if they can’t be pulled, if they are too hardened to remove, leave them and wait. They’re just not finished yet.
I’ve taken to seeing things differently these days. Everything has a purpose. Even the weeds. The dandelions that were brought to the New World for their medicine and beauty. The plantain that the ducks eat like candy. And the mugwort that does the farmer’s work for him.
Even the insects, which seem so much more prevalent in the country – I try to see them all with new eyes. The clouds of midges and the mason bees and mosquitoes, I try to uncover their purpose. There is a saying, where there are bugs, there are birds. They are all sustenance for something else: the barn swallows that do their aerodynamic tricks for food and fun, the polite fluffy gray phoebes that tilt their heads to regard you as if to say hello, and the dozens of songbirds that flash their colors and melodies separately so you’re never really certain who said what. They all feast on the insects we dislike.
And there’s a rhythm to their work, barely perceptible… the insects will erupt, then within a day or two the air will clear. The birds will have had their feast. After that, it’s just maintenance. Just like the farmer’s weeds.
If the air has not yet cleared, if the bugs that get on your skin get under it, give nature time. She’s just not finished yet.