I am a Weed and Proud of It

Would you call this a weed?

P1300819Russian Thistle aka Tumbleweed

How about this?

P1300825Full Bloom!

I found four colour variants today: Gold, Yellow, Pink, and Red.

What is a weed? The everyday understanding is that it is any plant that is growing where you don’t want it. In the case of russian thistle, which came over with seed grains from the Ukraine and soon spread across the West almost a century and a half ago, helped along by the over-grazing of natural grasslands by sheep and cattle, run by large landowners attempting to create themselves as a gentry, this means that a weed is a plant that interferes with economic progress.


A Plant That Will Not Be Controlled is Called a Weed

In turn, that means it is a plant that interferes with the privilege such men have for mining living environments for their living members, until nothing will grow but plants such as russian thistle, which attempt to heal broken soil. Russian thistle, or tumbleweed, is, in other words, those of us who are from anything other than a small privileged class, trying to live among the few remaining indigenous peoples who were cleared off of the earth by colonial or colonizing land-use practices. These practices are called farming. They are really the mining of the earth of life and the negating of it by turning it into economic capital that cannot be returned to the earth. Instead, it is given to non-living systems, which are called jobs and economies. These are things that do not live on the earth.


In a Land Sense Divorced from the Earth, this Deer Browse is Called Weeds

(The deer are called a nuisance and the sagebrush is called a protected ecosystem.)

I know I promised to explain how language goes astray today, but I found that these images so clearly set out an issue about the colonial and economic legacy behind contemporary word usage that I would share them with you instead. Monday will bring us back around to the words. Until then, here are a few more from the essay…

I don’t think it’s up to government to find answers. I don’t think it can. Its concepts of private and public ownership, its subdivisions, highways, forest practice codes, educational curricula, criminal codes and health contracts are all more or less set and will continue to turn out more or less the same result as they have in the past. This is their strength, actually. They endure. Luckily, you and I do more than that. We are alive. All of us, men, women, children, black bears, otters, sea lions, salmon, blue-tailed skinks and even tomato hornworms live in earth and water and air — not as resources but as living things on a living earth. That’s the other side of the British Columbian political system. It is called the commons.


What I’d like to emphasize about the commons is this: it is older than the law, cities and corporations erected on its strengths. It is not sustained by ownership, as the law built upon it is,  but by the lack of ownership. It is that old; it extends beyond the power of any state. Without it, there would be no British Columbia, people wouldn’t fly-fish on the Campbell, the Fraser would be dammed above Lilloett, and there wouldn’t be any salmon anymore. And there I am, talking again about the legacy of Roderick Haig-Brown. I’m proud to do so, because he lived a full life in the commons, as a writer, a fisherman, and a magistrate — all of them with no more authority than that which he held as the birthright of every man, woman and child. He never accepted less.


We have. In Canada today, nearly forty years after Haig-Brown’s death, the proud, ancient English tradition of the commons is best known as the House of Commons, a place that isn’t really a house and is common mostly in the sense of people gathering in order to be rude (common) to each other and to the institution.


I’d like you to think of this: being rude to the institution means being rude to you and me, because we are the commons.

The other day, I left you with an image of a Northern Flicker, to stand in for the words that subordinate its rights to human language and all of its difficulties at touching the world. Here she is again …

P1290946I would like to leave you with a thought for the weekend: if language reduces the earth to human social categories and conversations, is not the way towards healing the earth the path of granting social equality to the earth? It would, of course, mean having a language that could speak intimately with it. Fortunately, we do. It is very old, but fortunately it is very much alive — only subordinated to the will that has led us away from our common, living heritage. That is called theft. Next week, we’ll be talking about that. Happy Thanksgiving.




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