It’s mid-August, which for many of you might mean fresh tomatoes from the garden, green beans to snap and stock in the freezer, corn ripening on the stalk, and watermelons beckoning from below long, roping vines.
For me, it means six-foot-tall thistles.
That’s no exaggeration, either. I’ve had good intentions–laying out flower beds, rototilling the garden, buying plants and seeds. But April turned into May turned into June, etc., and now I have a garden full of gloriously happy and hearty weeds, a bird and butterfly paradise.
It’s more than a little embarrassing, to be honest. And I’m sure my neighbors view the weed-jungle as an eyesore.
But as I was sitting on the porch drinking my coffee the other morning I noticed a family of goldfinches flitting down from a maple tree, feeding on the thistle shrubs below. Goldfinches love thistles, and when my boys were young and very much into birds I bought them a seed sock, hung it outside their window, and they spent days enthralled with the yellow spectacle. At least my goldfinch neighbors appreciate my garden. As do the bees.
So perhaps the thing to do is to just embrace the thistles. Like the Scots do. It’s such a bold statement, really, to make the thistle your national emblem. And apparently (by which I mean “according to Wikipedia”), the Scots didn’t choose the thistle just out of pure cussedness. Nope. They celebrate it because some Norseman long ago was trying to make a sneak attack during a battle of some sort, and he stepped barefooted on thistles and yelped. Scotland saved.
Where am I headed with this? I don’t know.
Are the weeds in our lives really nourishment? Does life give us what we need, even when we don’t cultivate what we think we want? Or do the weeds in our lives protect us somehow? Providing helpful hedges that delimit the boundaries of safety and security?
Honestly, I haven’t yet worked out the metaphor on this one. But I suspect there is an important lesson here. So at the very least, I’m going to continue to pay attention, to take my cup of coffee outside, and to sit near the thistles and watch the goldfinches.
Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English literature and writing at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.