When I was a teenager, vegetables and flowers grew in our backyard. My mother bought flats and planted, while I was tasked with pulling weeds. It was a tedious chore, one I disliked immensely, not only because I was embarrassed to be seen by people in the park behind our house, but because to me it was totally meaningless; I was completely detached from the planting and growing process, only linked to it by way of weeding. Never mind that I didn’t know ‘bad’ weeds from ‘good’ plants and flora… at the time, I couldn’t care less.
Fast forward a few decades and I am, shall we say, ankle-deep in weeds. I don’t know many people who can imagine themselves spending five or six hours a day weeding and pruning, but that’s what I typically do when I am out here in the labyrinth. It is entirely self-imposed. And I love it.
Far from being a chore, the process of weeding has become an integral part of my sojourns up to Tabanan. I cherish the early mornings, on-site from 6 am, when the air is still rather crisp, the silence largely unbroken, distant mountain ranges still visible. With bin, gardening gloves, spade and other tools in hand, I walk onto the terrace where the labyrinth welcomes me into its still-cool embrace.
The limestone pieces lining the circuits continue to shift, sinking into the earth, going into deep hiding between the swirling pieces of grass. The ground, in some parts, has transformed into undulating mounds of soil, chunks of grass turned a burnished red where limestone lies almost buried.
Being so close to the ground brings you palm-distance away from nature’s microcosmic cosmos: Armies of ants crawl onto the bridges of each foot, scratching and nibbling so ferociously that I need to swat and squash and flick them away. Even huge lumps of rosemary cuttings I’d boiled in water and dumped onto patches of grass aren’t enough to ward them off – apparently not the deterrent I hoped for.
I’m a city girl by birth. Hence, I don’t know the names of weeds. Which doesn’t bother me in the least, because I’ve learned to recognize them by their personalities:
There’s the easy-going one, so much so that when I place my palm around its top, it eases out so gracefully as if anticipating my approach. The stubborn one, unyielding even when I grab hold of its entire upper clump, right down to the earth; even if I yank and swivel and ask it to release, still it remains largely entrenched in the soil.
And then there are the weeds that just won’t move. Rebel weeds. So deeply and firmly entrenched into the earth, not only unwilling to serve up their roots, but sure to spread themselves even further astray in my absence.
Some, by virtue of their disguise and coloring, blend in as seamlessly as chameleons; only a finely tuned set of eyes can ferret them out. And, of course, the brown- or white-capped fungi, popping up unexpectedly all over the place.
Not to be forgotten, there are charmers among them too; tall weeds swaying in the breeze, birthing pretty little flowers; short fellas with shiny, almost glossy leaves; and flat-leaf clovers carpeting themselves all over, even across stone borders, their thin white roots (ie tentacles) wrapped so tightly under leaves and stems of grass, requiring a modicum of patience in following the meandering vines to their source.
Crouching, squatting, kneeling and crawling around on all fours, I must look like an animal sniffing around for clues. When my face is only inches away from soil, I am almost seamlessly connected to the earth and its energy.
Weeding, I’ve discovered, not only connects me to the ground – it connects me to myself: it’s the most natural method of meditation I can imagine. Just get down on your knees and hands, watch life unfold, curl around, saunter by and, overnight, sprout sprout sprout.
I think that everyone should, at least once in their lifetime, be required to do a stint in weeding. At the very least, spend a good deal of time in nature, down on your knees, in close proximity to the earth.
And here’s why: Nobody should die before they have had a chance to watch a few minutes’ worth of a ladybug tiptoeing to the top of a blade of grass, then heading down the other side, only to repeat over and over again at every blade it meets. Nobody should miss the wonder of eye-dropping on a pair of yellow butterflies, long enough to learn that they flirt and court in dips and circles, canoodle easily at the tip of a tendril and are far from being monogamous creatures. Nobody should excuse themselves from the solitary experience of being stared down by a dragonfly perching on the point of a wooden stake, or getting up close to a grasshopper that may at any moment leap onto the front of your shirt – perhaps mistaking you for a tree.
Kneel. Pray. Weed.