There are many gardening chores that the average person might find unpleasant, but to a gardener they are part of the fun. Weeding is one of these -- but not just any weeding. The greatest pleasure is weeding "in the zone." That is a short but wonderful snippet of time that many gardeners recognize. These zones have a lot to do with the condition of the soil. In spring there are a few gentle days that occur between the rainy periods and the dry periods.
Or you can help nature along with a good soaking. The clay soil in my region goes from the texture of cream cheese to terra cotta in about three days. So in between those conditions there is a day when the soil is perfect, dry enough to be workable and moist enough to release the weed willingly -- roots and all. As much as I love plants, I'm equally fond of a freshly weeded and cultivated patch of dark, rich soil.
Even the smell of the earth changes as it opens up and releases the weeds. Pulling up the weed breaks the surface and lets it breathe again after a winter of being pounded by the rain. And almost as satisfying is watching the pile of oxalis and other undesirables fill the weed basket.
When my daughter was a toddler, one of her first words was "oxalis." I was so pleased, because I wanted to raise a gardener, or at least a weeder. She followed me around in the yard getting as muddy as I and asking, "Mommy, is this oxalis?" Tiny hands were good at fitting into the places where this sneaky weed hides, next to the stems of favorite flowers. And when, by the age of 4, my daughter was able to tell the difference between wild onions and emerging freesias, well, I couldn't have been more proud if she'd been giving violin recitals.
My equipment for these events is simple. Sometimes I start off with good intentions, with my foam knee pad, gardener's stool and heavy gloves. But usually it's just me and my trusty Japanese cultivating tool. It would probably be more sensible to use the substantial gardening gloves, but there's something more connected, more part of the process with bare hands. My compromise is often latex surgical gloves. I grab a pocketful of them as I go into the yard. I measure the accomplishments of the day not just by the volume of weeds but by how many gloves I wear out in the process. My other favorite tool is an old paring knife that digs up stubborn roots. Some roots elude me, but not many.
When the job is complete, the remaining plants look so beautiful against the dark, smooth soil. For several days the next pesky weeds in waiting do not emerge, so I can go back into the yard and feel again the satisfaction of hands in the dirt and of creating a little bit of order, where a little bit is just the right amount.
Susan DeMersseman is a psychologist and parent educator in Berkeley. E-mail her firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page HO - 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle