Vladimir Ouch is my excuse, my justification, for not weeding my garden.
Who, you may ask, is Vladimir Ouch? None other than the thistle growing near the door of my little house. I have seen it grow from a prickly little thistlet to a spiky wonder taller than I am. It was named in collaboration with friends who also enjoy a non-Euclidean way of viewing the world.
When you’ve named something, it is hard to uproot it. I have a soft spot for thistles to begin with. They are prickly, and to most eyes, ugly, and yet they produce flowers that are extravagantly purple and beautiful. We saw a moth-like beast nestling in the swirls of one flower — the mothy one was colored just like a wasp, in dark brown and yellow (“Batesian mimicry,” whispered my daughter). I am waiting for the local goldfinches to discover Vladimir, since I’ve seen them before on thistles. Idly I wonder if the gold-and-brown creatures of the air have a special relationship with Vladimir Ouch. Do they particularly like purple? Does Vladimir exude a secret scent discernible only to such beings?
My neighbor’s garden is a complete contrast to mine. His lawns are manicured, his bushes neatly trimmed, and you can smell the pesticide on spray-day even if you are a few blocks away. Not a single dandelion raises its head on that lawn. My garden has a shaggy shrubbery in the front, and the lawn behind is innocent of herbicide and pesticide. This summer the rains have turned the front garden into a jungle, which is something I have to deal with quickly before it becomes impenetrable. My idea of a garden is certainly much less civilized than my neighbor’s, but a jungle is a bit much. Sadly (or gladly?) I have neither the time nor energy to be a hardworking gardener, like certain of my friends. :-P
The trouble is that being an academic and a writer can be a disadvantage, in that it enables creative excuses. I find myself interested in the greenstuff that comes up after the rains. I enjoy the uncommon, unacknowledged beauty of the weeds, their defiant, celebratory, nonconformist existence. I get curious about their lives. Without lifting a trowel I find my creativity, not my hands, stained with green. Here’s an extract from a work in progress. The protagonist shares only two things with me: being female and being lazy about her garden (or fascinated by its wilderness potential, whatever you prefer).
And lately she had been distracted by the beauty of the weeds, bemused by their lust for life. How quickly they had grown after that first rain! She had thought: I really must pull that one out, it is so tall… I wonder how much taller it will grow? And she’d let it stay there just to find out. At the moment it was taller than her, its whorls of leaves like spread hands stacked vertically, holding the stem that seemed destined for the stars. Then there were the thistles, so charming in their prickliness, promising those absurdly luxurious purple flowers. I’ll pull out a few and leave one or two, she’d thought vaguely, but which few? And who had appointed her executioner? The little shrubs on the other side of the driveway were also aggressively full of life — a neighbor told her they would become trees if she didn’t pull them out. But she had to let the leaves, coiled like green embryos on the stem, she had to let those leaves unfurl like slow banners. She imagined the sap pulsing through the veins, straightening the folds and crenellations until the leaf stood out straight as an arrow. She watched that happen over days while the weed forest grew madly around her.
I’m not sure how Vladimir Ouch figures in this story but there is no doubt in my mind that he is much more than backdrop.