Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Watering Weeds

I'm a gardener.  Every year, beginning in the earliest months of spring, the war on weeds begins.  Weeds are hardy little buggers.  Among the first things to emerge from the frozen earth, weeds signal the end of winter - long before the more desirable perennial and food offerings I've planted make their appearance.  Does a weed think "Gee, if I get a head start I have a good chance of holding this piece of earth over that pampered cultivated crap that human plants!  Can't she see the beauty I bring to the landscape?"  I'm very sure it does think that.  If weeds had brains.

But weeds don't have brains, they have a millennia of natural selection on their side. Weeds have something better than brains.  Weeds have  (millions?) of years of practice being weeds.  Adapting and multiplying.  Leaving seed that may be buried for eons only to be unearthed by some act of God (or my hoe) to rise again.  Sound a little like a horror movie?  Ah, "Return of the Weed".

Weeds are tough.  They tolerate very little water or too much.  They thrive on neglect and despise rich soil.  And weeds...well, weeds also propagate.  They are so efficient at seeding themselves that it boggles the mind of the humble gardener who just wants to grow some food, for Pete's sake!   

As you can guess, I've been weeding.  And weeding.  And even weeding some more.  I'm not a fan of weeding. But I find a satisfaction from ridding the soil of those nasty weeds, leaving tidy garden beds.  For a week.  Tops.  Leave weeding for two weeks and you have a problem of epic proportion.Why despise the weed?  They are just trying to survive after all!  But weeds crowd out desirable plants by multiplying magically somehow, so well that they actually take over the space and choke the garden plant.  A weeds roots greedily take up the nutrients in the soil meant for the plants that we grow to nourish us.  Essentially weeds rob other plants of the things necessary to grow and thrive.   

To help the plants I have planted reach their flowering glory, or my table as nourishment, I wage my war on the weed.  And I ALWAYS weed before I water.  I just can not water in good conscience, the weed.   Watering weeds is encouraging them to stay--and bring others. Watering weeds doubles your work load. "Oh, just this week?"  I might hear myself say.  "Those few small little weeds will not cause much trouble."  I can water them just this once and pull them next week.  Well,  I'm here to say that I have gone back out the very next day after watering only to find I need a machete and flame thrower to destroy what was a mere day ago just a tiny little weed!  NO! No watering weeds.  My mother always said "if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing well" or, don't water your weeds.  

As I was weeding yesterday I was thinking about a few comments in some social media threads I had read.  The general idea was that practice makes perfect.  We all know that saying and I'm sure we all understand its truth.  But what struck me as I was weeding out invasive plants that thrive in the fertile soil I cultivate, was that bad habits are like weeds.  Eager to fill the empty spaces and take over my carefully tended plot, bad habits can crowd out good intentions or lessons learned.  And once planted and heaven forbid, watered, they become monsters that are not easily dealt with.  

It is not enough to just fill a canvas.  While practice makes perfect and Malcolm Gladwells idea of 10,000 hours is admirable, this is only true if you practice good technique. 10,000 hours of practicing incorrectly means you have become very good at doing it wrong! So my thoughts are as simple as my vow to weed before I water.  If you are working hard at your art remember that you will not get better practicing the wrong things.  No, practicing your skills correctly will make your work better.  Doing the same wrong thing over and over will only water the weed.  

But if you are a novice gardener, how do you identify a weed?  How does the budding artist know if they are doing it right?  Well, good teachers can help with that. (wink, wink). But so can a book, video, or another artist whose work you admire.  The great thing about art is that you never arrive.  You are always on a journey to learn.  Your work is never finished and your painting never perfect.  There is always something to learn. And just like the garden, you must continually work to keep the weeds at bay. Keep your practice free of the things that want to crowd it out.  And remember, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.