Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Charles Markee
Clearing brush is primitive, man vs. weed at nature's resilient frontier. I love the feel of the physical labor involved; exertion outdoors unbounded by walls and surrounded by my friends the, trees, rocks, earth, animals and yes, even the insects.
Power tools might make the job easier and faster, but they have the oil smoke stench of machines and their incessant noise drowns out the sound of the breeze in the trees, the crack of twigs and the rustle of leaves underfoot. I persist in hand-to-hand combat against the 15-foot scotch broom weeds that steal nourishment from the earth, block air circulation through the trees and create a fire hazard. I confront a thicket filling the steep slope of our creek's canyon, so dense that the sound of running water is the only evidence that a creek exists and so thick that there are trees I have never seen.
My relationship with the land, the trees, the rocks and the creek, is personal, as is my determination in ridding the canyon of these invasive giant weeds. I rise early, selecting work clothes for protection against poison oak and boots to gain purchase on the steep bank. I start out, the sun breaking through a copse of trees to the east and chilly gusts moving the treetops. Raucous crows fly by, our local hawk, high overhead, screams its morning cry and squirrels chatter high in the oaks.
Armed with a tree saw and loppers, I slide down to the edge of the weed thicket. One at a time, I grip their trunks near the ground and wrench them back and forth, ripping loose their hold on mother earth. Then, with both hands locked around them, I flex large leg muscles to rip them out. Shallow rooted, some give way. Others, larger and still green with life, have to be lopped or sawed off.
It's slow work, each weed a different size, some entwined with poison oak, others tangled together in a lover's embrace evolved over years. Heaving and wrestling, I utter a prehistoric growl from an animal part of me that engages the task. I belong here, doing this, yet I stop and wonder. Do they cry out in pain in some other dimension? But soldiers don't question.
A bundle gathered and wrapped with elastic cord, I start up the hill, slipping and falling in areas so steep that I must crawl, clawing the hillside, grabbing onto cut weed stumps, dragging the bundle behind me. Half way up, my aging heart thunders in my chest and I stop to catch my breath. Should this old man be doing this? Determined, I hoist the bundle and trudge up to high ground where I stack the fallen enemy to be hauled away.
Sweat running into my eyes and dripping off my nose, marks the end of two hours, all I can do in a single day with the sun now overhead, baking me and the earth beneath my boots.
Charles Markee works on his property and writes middle-grade childrenís novels from his moonview cabin in the hills behind Santa Rosa, California.
Otherworld Tales: Irish the Demon Slayer has recently been published.
Back to Flashes