Weeds

I just recently read an article in the current spring issue of The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine that made me think about something we most often take for granted: weeds. It is a photo essay of stunning quality; its images moved me in a way that perhaps you might find strange. It begins with a formidable photo that really looks more like a painting, one I’d purchase without a second thought. The image is of papery, fiery poppies lining a cracked roadway. A sea of teacup blossoms, soft teardrop buds and seed pods waiting to ejaculate life across their expanding lea.

The essay speaks of humanity’s desire to abolish the weed from our perfect little gardens and how yet our world would be much less colourful and in some cases, less fruitful and healthful, if it were not for those plants we call invaders. We see weeds as plants that are ugly, unwanted, or simply growing where they ought not to be. I desire not to be seen as someone that unnecessarily creates metaphors simply for the sake of them, but I truly felt impassioned to draw some simple links between my life and the weed. And certainly, I could turn this into a social missive, discussing the way we classify people as unwanted or undesirable to suit societal ideals, but I won’t.

What I will instead relay is how, in experiencing this essay, I was struck by the image of a lone chamomile plant stubbornly surviving in a dark subway. I closed my eyes and imagined the sweet scent the chamomile blossom emits, and the lovely, calmative tea it gives us. Then, I was moved by a winter photograph of a tenacious bramble bush pouring over a fence, so abundant it reminded me of the strength and fullness with which a river flows over every rock and outcropping in its path, unrestrained. And finally, a photo of ash seedlings, sheltering between abandoned railway tracks; where humans no longer see utility, the minimalism of nature finds solace.

And so, it occurred to me that so many times in my life, circumstances have seemed imperfect, untimely and ugly. I’ll spare you the details of those hurts and disappointments, but I think many of us know that if we are wise, we’ll look back upon difficult situations in our lives and attempt to draw strength and opportunity from them. And even as I struggle now with arduous, complicated situations and decisions, I recognize these occasions are really a gift. All of those trials have provided me with a realistic perspective of life and its sometimes inconvenient circumstances; the strength I own in my mind and spirit to conquer them; the relationships that have been built in the process; the innumerable joys that have ultimately resulted after the worst storms. As I read the article, I was reminded that this same poppy, purposefully plowed out of farmers’ fields, has prevented much human suffering through its medicinal properties. Then, I contemplated the comforting yet haunting imagery of Flanders Fields, from whence it became the inspiration for a timeless poem. What more strikingly immortal place could a weed occupy?

I’m in no way indicating I’ll allow weeds to overrun my garden, but I will say that I will look at them differently when I struggle to pull their deep roots out of the soil in which they cling so obstinately. As the article clearly states, weeds are our most successful plants. They live abundantly in some of the most desolate, tortured and extreme living conditions. They keep trying, despite our best efforts to eradicate them, to live richly in the face of adversity, and some of them manage tremendous beauty in the process.

You can read the essay here and the photo gallery is viewable, but you’d be remiss not to pick up the magazine to see the full sized photographs in the set if they interest you.

From Pounding Pavement to Spinning Wheels

I just got back from a sunset cycle and I’m far too stoked to sleep, so here I recount the commencement of my conversion from runner to cyclist…..

I’ve been a runner for many years; about 17 actually. I love to run. It is liberating, invigorating and relaxing all at once. Despite an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury I incurred playing rugby in high school, I persevered and started to run half-marathons a few years ago, compensating through strength training of various kinds and many types of complementary exercise regimes. The thrill of competition blew me away, and I set many goals for myself. Before my second injury of the same knee, I was steadily improving my time. I believe my best was a respectable, though not at all competitive, 1:45. After fully blowing my ACL to smithereens I continued to run, and even ran a couple more races, refusing to believe my dream of completing a full marathon and perhaps someday an ultra-marathon was extinct. After pregnancy and childbearing, I suppose the hormonal and physical changes in my body have somehow exacerbated the problem, as my knee issues just seem to continually worsen. I’ve been too stubborn to get it repaired, as I know it will land me on the couch for a few weeks, and there’s far too much to do to be tied down!

I recently acquired a nice road bike from my father, who purchased it a few years ago with the noble intention of really using it. That didn’t happen, and it has been sitting in his garage ever since. And so, a few weeks ago, I adopted it. I decided that I needed to finally replace running with something else I could really work hard at, realistically find time to engage in, and eventually compete at.

I found a great bike shop nearby, and according to my new friend Shawn at Total Cyclery in Cornwall, I have myself an excellent Italian specimen I could never have come close to purchasing (thank you Dad). So, I got it tuned up, was properly fitted, invested in a bunch of paraphernalia, and figured I would just go for it. Regrettably, this first week has not been without challenges. I’ve played nearly every sport in existence, and loved most of them including mountain biking. But, my first few times riding this bike literally put me on my ass. Riding a bike with my feet stuck to the pedals is an entirely new experience, one which my body and mind are none too pleased about. Nevertheless, after persevering with practice, several falls and many bruises, I took my first real ride earlier this week. I rode 25km in light rain and wind, and it felt incredible. When I returned home and attempted to get off my bike, I fell over in front of half a dozen neighbours. My pride injured but the rest of me spared, I was still gratified and excited to try again.

I attempted my second ride the next day, only to be rendered immobile due to a broken rear derailer and damaged chain about 8km out. I must have unknowingly injured my bike during my embarrassing dismount the previous day. Disappointed, I returned home, and off I went to the repair shop. Without a bike to ride and yet a desire to exercise, I tried to run that day. I’ve been hobbling around on a sore and swollen knee ever since. My running days are officially over.

This evening I went for a beautiful sunset ride. Another 25km; not far, not fast at 1:05, but I managed it without any unnatural fatigue and sans falls or untoward events. Despite my knee giving me immense trouble all day, I felt no pain while I rode, and I swear it feels better after my ride. I can now confidently state that cycling will easily replace running for me. I am a lover of speed and always have been, so it shouldn’t surprise me that the ability to go much faster on a road bike than on foot is thrilling. The sound of the wind and turning tires is virtually mesmerizing. The power transfer from foot to pedal is a phenomenal feeling and I can see why people describe their bike as being a part of them. I love that I can control the level of my workout when on flat terrain, unlike with running. The ability to cover so much ground in a short time is also exhilarating. And though I don’t really enjoy living in the country, I must admit that my ride tonight was gorgeous. I watched the sun slowly sink into the country horizon as I rode past corn and soy fields, forests, streams and marshland, all while seeing fewer than ten cars. I must have been exuding joy as I rode, because at one point, four cows began galloping (do cows gallop?) alongside me in their field. You couldn’t have painted a bigger smile on my face in that moment.

This new endeavour is certainly not without challenges. I am nowhere near confident on my bike. I get nervous when cars come up behind me, or when barking German Shepherds come running down country drives. I know I can’t easily dismount in the event of an emergency, so my brain constantly reminds me of the danger involved in this undertaking. I realized that although evening rides are beautiful and peaceful, the bugs that emerge at that time are not ideal riding partners. It’s a good thing I breathe through my nose when I exercise, and that I bought photochromic glasses I can wear at dusk. I also discovered tonight that eating a salad containing garlic scapes is not a good idea before a ride.

I truly thought I would mourn the loss of running for a long time, but I have surprised myself. Despite the fears and challenges I’m experiencing, I am certain this sport is going to replace running in a way that generates passion in me, and will allow me to put away my running shoes with fond memories but no tears.

Road for One

Feet hit the pavement
Firmly, Rhythmically.
Breaths and steps in unison
Compose a song-like tempo
And a trance-like focus.

I melt into myself,
My mind, my body.
Living a simple purpose:
Harmony in adrenaline flows,
Equilibrium despite antithesis.

Beauty spoken through movement.
Distances travelled unacknowledged.
Fortitude stretched to transcendence.
Tension released absolutely.
Joy discovered in the journey.