Feb 232013

With a burst of nice weather, after rain earlier in the week, I have a responsibility. It’s even a savage pleasure. I get to rip thousands of scotch broom plants out of my back yard. You can see the results. Piles of dead broom in the foreground, a clear view of the forest to the right, and an ocean of the pernicious weeds to the left. I’ve cleared about half of the yard this winter.

There is data, and then there is feeling. The data is…this is a big fire hazard, and as you can see, it’s hard to see the forest for the, uh, weeds. The right side is lovely, the left side annoying. When Nancy and I bought this property, this weed field was 8 feet high, and we couldn’t see the trees at all until we fought our way through. We pulled them, thousands of them. And then, I neglected to come back and pull them again. My mistake. The good news is, they are not hard to yank after a rain, and we got a good bit earlier this week. So it’s prime time to strike. The problem will be less and less each year, if I am diligent.

The feeling is edgy. Grrr, I cheerfully kill hundreds and thousands of these, pulling them with gloves and sometimes with tools. When I’m in the flow, it’s a meditative experience, totally focused and present, feeling my body work and feeling the resistance of these plants as they grip the earth so firmly. I now sit in my kitchen, feeling a deep satisfaction after pushing the edge back another ten feet. So much of the learning in my life happens when I can hold several things in my awareness at the same time. Today, it’s “savage satisfaction”, “meditative destruction”, my vow to not kill, and the beautiful esthetic and health of an open forest.


Here is the view from above, the upper roof deck of my home, with covered outdoor furniture, and the wild oak forest above. All of the scotch broom on the right side will be gone by May, that is my solemn commitment.

There are precious discoveries as I meditatively destruct the weeds. I found baby oaks and bays, precious trees coming up with only a few leaves. With the scotch broom gone, they will get sun, and with a little assistance from me — perhaps a strategic watering if we have no rain for a month — they will help the forest continue. And the forest needs help: I’ve lost two oaks to Sudden Oak Death since buying this property, and my neighbor’s beautiful heritage oak tree on the south side of my house also succumbed. I’m the steward of a bit of Marin, a half-acre of hillside, with foxes and turkeys and all the usual varmints. I want to keep it healthy.

  One Response to “the back 40”

  1. Tom, thanks for steering me back to your blog. I’ll be reading in increments. I don’t think I can take it all in at once.

    This reminded me so much of shoveling snow: the way you have the simple, straightforward task that requires a steady dedication; and you get the satisfaction of seeing a steady measure of your work. (Washing dishes is like that for me, too.)

    I remember once a friend and I were digging our cars out of five or six feet of snow and having just this discussion. Then one of us reflected on what this would sound like to an old Easterner, and their response: “Yeah? Well those California boys can come ‘experience’ my driveway in the winter anytime they want.”

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