I’ve always admired folks who remember dates of events. To be able to recall the year Star Wars came out or the date of your wedding is a marvelous talent. At best I can only attach numbers to a few events: my birth (only because you can’t get medical care without it); graduations (so you wind up at the right reunion); and droughts—’80, ’83, ’88, ’12, and hopefully, ’17 (somewhere else). What amazes me are folks who can talk about 1993 like memories had a date and time stamp.
My recollections seem to be organized under another hierarchy. Early cultures often based records on some memorable condition. It could be the reign of a monarch (during Good Queen Bess’ time), a shared economic phenomenon (Great Depression) or even sports related (when Illinois could play football). Similar to those numerically and temporally challenged citizens, I find my memories filed under an agronomic standard: prevalent weeds.
Flipping through a weed guide is as good as a photo album for me—and infinitely better than squinting at a phone.
These, then are the Weeds of My Days—the vegetal mileposts of a man adrift in time.
- Jimson weed. My earliest memory of a despised botanical menace because—and my condolences if you also know what this means—they could rip combine canvases.
- Ragweed (giant, normal and midget). While this weed will likely still plague us after any nuclear apocalypse, it used to fill in under the hedgerows to make jungles to play in. I also label these days as “pre-allergy” weeds.
- Cocklebur. This weed is one of the Terrible Triad (with velvetleaf and milkweed) of my bean-walking days. The mental scars of those battles inspired me to pass Organic Chemistry II when all other motivation had withered.
- Milkweed. Thanks to a pollinator plot and irony, I’m actually paying for milkweed seed and growing it on purpose. This foul enemy slipped by blows from hoes, smeared our hands with adhesive envied by duct tape and perversely provided vast entertainment when fully ripe and struck by a combine reel.
- Hedge bindweed. For a brief time before dicamba, this high-tensile threat made row cultivation even more loathsome by bridging across shanks. Legend has it, bindweed evolved overnight after the invention of rotary cultivators.
- Shattercane. Like a drifter in a western movie, this adversary arrived mysteriously from exotic places such as southern Indiana, just as we all thought we were getting a chemical handle on weed control. With closely guarded herbicide recipes, our fields no longer caused us to stare straight ahead when leaving home. The name derives from the emotional impact of seeing a field that was clean when you left on vacation in August but dotted with impossibly tall intruders after you return.
- Marestail. This was a weed that several other guys had. But like all people with a substance abuse problem, its appearance was the beginning of Nature’s Intervention for my glyphosate addiction. Nature apparently isn’t stopping with just one species to cure me either.
- Palmer Amaranth. This name first struck me as an alias a spy would use to disguise both gender and ethnicity. And while I’m not sure I’ve seen it yet, I now find myself using “the fear of Palmer” as a synonym for dread.
Honorable mention should be given to the perennial annual adversary, foxtail. Like old rock bands, it just doesn’t seem to know when to leave the stage and stands waiting whenever some other performer doesn’t show up.
So when I think about when our children were playing Little League, I recall the Milkweed Era. Our first cruise was during the Time of Bindweed. And our sunset years will be known as the Days of Wine and Amaranth. Indeed, for many of us, teary reflections on our mortality could best be expressed as “weed ’em and weep.”