Pesky weeds have a certain pull for a shirtless man


Wearing only a pair of gym shorts, I sneaked out the front door. The plan was to scoop up the morning newspapers and scamper back in the house. I got distracted by the weeds.

They were taunting me. A couple of tall, punky-looking ones were sticking up from cracks in the sidewalk, daring me to act. Before you could say "Hey buddy, put a shirt on!" I was on a weed-pulling jag.

I yanked the tall weeds up by their roots, then spotted a few more slouching at the base of a nearby tree. I gave them the same rough treatment. I next tangled with a couple of weeds that had taken up residence next to the front steps.

A few minutes later, there was not a weed left wiggling on the front sidewalk. I wanted to pause and admire my work but the arrival of a couple of smartly dressed passers-by reminded me I did not have many clothes on. I hurried into the house. There, peeking out a front window, I gazed at the stretch of weed-free sidewalk.

It was a brief skirmish in an unending battle with weeds. Like most right-thinking Americans, I am anti-weed. I have fought weeds by spraying them with chemicals and by covering stretches of ground with thick, sunlight-blocking, black cloth.

While these high-tech methods yield some success, the most satisfying method of weed removal is the old-fashioned one: yanking the weeds out by their roots and holding the weeds up in the air, as you would a trophy-size fish.

To do this you must have good weed-yanking weather, the kind we had when I was scampering around the sidewalk. It had rained during the night and the ground was moist. Wet grounds may cancel baseball games but they are ideal conditions for pulling weeds. Conversely, pulling weeds from sun-baked soil is harder than prying visiting relatives out of an air-conditioned guest room.

Another key to weed-removal is to attack them during the cloudy part of the day. I am not sure why this is so. Maybe it is because on cloudy days there are no shadows and that makes it easier to sneak up on the weeds and strike before the weeds have a chance to put their roots into the cling position. Or maybe when the light is dim, you think none of your neighbors will see you when you scamper outside to pull a few. I suspect if a spy satellite took an early-Saturday morning snapshot of Baltimore-area backyards, it would show lots of people in their PJs pulling weeds.

A good weed-yanking session can pump up your ego. It is one of the few activities of modern life that lets you see the results of your labors. The other morning, for instance, I was feeling so charged up by my victory over the sidewalk weeds, that I was ready to tussle with the big guys, the garden weeds.

I had not visited the garden in about two weeks. In my absence, the tomato plants had apparently followed the advice of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and had grown very slowly. But the weeds had shot up faster than inflation in Brazil. What had been bare ground a few weeks earlier, was now home to a crop of eye-high weeds. I started yanking.

I filled up three wheel-barrows with weeds. I had brought along some weed-pulling assistants, my 9-year-old son and one of his buddies. I tried to coax them into helping me by making weed-pulling a game. The kids did not buy it. Instead they invented other games such as squirting each other with water hoses, and tossing rocks at a wash tub. Their games looked like more fun than mine.

Battling the weeds did give me respect for the tenacity of my opponent. Several weeds were growing on ground I had covered with black cloth. The label on the cloth had described the black material as a "weed blocker." Apparently not all weeds can read. A few had pushed through weak spots in the weed blocker. As I yanked out the last of these invaders, I vowed to try to be as opportunistic as a weed.

Battling the garden weeds tuckered me out, but an hour later I spotted some more weeds growing in cracks in the alley behind our house and I couldn't resist attacking the intruders. As I yanked, I remembered that my mother used to go on similar weed-pulling binges. I told myself that perhaps this urge to pull weeds was genetic, passed on in the DNA from generation to generation. A few minutes later, my 13-year-old son walked by. I tried to introduce him to the joy of weed yanking. He looked at me as if I were crazy. If there is a weed-yanking gene in the family, it has skipped a generation.

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