Why do we weed? - #44
Some things need tending.
The air is full of cottonwood fluff, bird song, and fury. Or maybe that’s my mouth. Maybe that’s my heart. I am in the past now with so many others.
On Thursday, I was managing PMS. For me, PMS expresses itself as heightened emotions. I can feel when it’s happening. I was on an early morning hike with Cooper and the power company was in the woods, clearing brush around the power lines. I came upon them as they fell an old growth pine tree that grew where it landed, seeding and rooting decades ago when the population of my town was only a handful of the hearty. When I saw it snap and collapse, I started to cry. I made a mental note in my head: today, the valve is broken. Try to avoid turning on the water, lest it flood.
But we’re not always the one tending to the spigot.
A few weeks ago I joined a women-led, women-founded company dedicated to revolutionizing women’s health. On Thursday, when I signed on after my hike, their parent company laid off 18% of the overall workforce, decimating the team I was hired to lead, and announcing that the woman who founded the company would be taking an alternate role, and that her company would roll into the parent company, dissolving the brand. I stared at my computer, many miles from any of these people, as the spigot flooded my basement, my yard, and my head. I no longer had the boss, the team, the directive, or the company I’d been so excited about three weeks prior. This was not a good day to be experiencing PMS.
This is the 9th time I’ve been present yet unscathed for layoffs since 2012, but this is the first time it happened just as I’d started. The first time it happened remotely. The first time I could not for the life of me understand what I was supposed to do next. I DMed a coworker I’d met the week prior who I’d felt a kinship with. I said, “this is a weird time to not have any friends here. Is your team OK?” Minutes later, his icon disappeared. He’d been let go.
So I went outside and planted seeds. Last month I went to a weeding workshop in town. Maybe 25 of the 180 residents attended. We were going to learn which species were damaging the valley so we could do our part to remove them. And some of the plants we pulled were beautiful. There’s no denying the butter-and-eggs-beauty of toadflax. No getting around the memories of dandelion crowns. This valley is unique in that so very much of it remains quite literally untouched, but weeds are clever and act with disregard. We will lose what makes this valley special if we do not actively protect it.
The seeds I scattered are a mix of the natural wildflowers that grow here. The window was closing on planting them, and the rains were coming. So I left my phone and my messages and my emails inside and laid seed among the top soil, churned up for use by the moles and voles in the ground. Not all seeds turn to wildflowers. Some of them would be eaten. Others crushed. Others on a journey I know nothing about. But I still plant them in hopes a few of them flower.
That night, a neighbor I’ve been hoping to forge a friendship with texted me. “Wanna go for a walk tomorrow morning?”
We met in the street just past 7:30am. It was 40 degrees on a Friday morning in June. Both of us outfitted with baseball caps and technical jackets and trail shoes and unleashed dogs. We went into the woods, the cool air fighting the emerging sun.
On the river trail, dogs sprinting in front of us, she said, “so you’re a writer, right?” I hurtled through space and time, agencies and emails, thinking about all the people just one day prior I had been so excited to be friends with who would now be enshrined in the LinkedIn Hall of Fame of “damn, I really liked them.” Living here, in this small town of useful people, no one cares who I work for. If they care at all, they care mostly that I do not work for someone here. No one’s heard of the women’s health company I dreamed of working for, and no one’s heard of the parent company that I now do. No one cares.
But on Friday morning, they all cared about women’s health.
Back in the email box, I struggled to regulate my emotions. I was mad about everything. Mad about the job, mad about the courts, mad about the world, and mad about my own hope.
On Saturday, in an effort to deal with Big Emotions, I went to the neighboring town’s park. I sat on a boulder at the edge of the pond, writing this newsletter. All around me, parents were teaching their children to fish. A boy no more than 6 caught one, and as it emerged from the water, he started to scream, dropping the rod. His father yelled at him. The boy yelled back, “it’s scared!” pointing at the fish. Another dad, this one with his daughter, spoke very softly. I was only ten feet away, and I could hear him quietly explaining to his quiet daughter the difference between fishing and catching. Why he fishes, then releases. She had a stern little face, but her focus wasn’t helping. The fish were not biting for her. This next part sounds made up, but she said, “it doesn’t matter. I can’t be a fisherman anyway. I’m a girl.” And her dad, her sweet wonderful backwards-capped dad said, “you’re a person who fishes. And I’m proud of you.” I wanted to throw my laptop in the water and go shake his hand.
But the moment soured quickly under the weight of my fears. A 10-year-old girl in 2022 saying she couldn’t fish because of the word fisherman? Really? This? Still? I felt like I’d somehow stumbled into an afternoon special from 1998. We will stumble back further still.
A couple of fish lingered below me in the water, flicking in my shadow. There we all were, at the pond together. Everyone enjoying a summer day. All the people exchanging smiles and then minding to ourselves. This place is not a bucolic paradise where everyone agrees all the time. But they do agree most of the time. That’s why we chose it.
When I had finished saying what I could to the page, I packed up and went home to my garden. It hasn’t been as rainy as forecasted, and the seeds need help. The garden will need help for years to come. Some days I will arrive to it with PMS and sadness. Some days I will arrive with delight and pride. Some days I will not arrive at all. But it will be there, ready to be tended, with my rage, with my joy. Only if I do not arrive again and again and again will I step outside to see the wildflowers lost.
I am unhappy today. I am disappointed in my luck, our leaders, and my country. But the garden remains, the work continues, and only with effort will flowers grow where weeds try to rule.
For reading and helpful resources on this week’s news, I recommend: