The Virginia Creeper
Back before I liked girls, back when the tiny cone-shaped holes that pockmarked my elementary school’s windows mystified me, it took exactly 45 steps to walk from gym class to the boy’s bathroom. And 96 steps from Ms. Grey’s classroom to the cafeteria.
Some kids avoided cracks. I counted steps. “One, two, three, four, five . . .” This compulsive, hypnotic drone filled my head everywhere I went. Fortunately, I grew out of this odd habit, but recently, a new savant tic has taken its place.
These days as I walk though our fields, eyes to the ground, it’s “Pigweed, Lady’s Thumb, Goldenrod, Lambsquarter . . .” as I scan every plant though a recently memorized catalogue of weed names.
Lets play a quick game. Which of the following are weeds?
Queen Anne’s Lace
If you said crabgrass and dandelion, congratulations, you’d be right. But if you said daisy, you’d also be right. In fact if you said none of them at all – you’re right too. The term “weed” is relative – it describes any plant growing in a place that we humans deem inappropriate. And unfortunately, many plants with fascinating histories and uses are lumped together in this generic category and targeted for eradication.
One such ‘weed’, Purslane, is a creeping succulent that we energetically yank from our vegetable beds. An irony, though, because it’s actually the most nutritious plant we grow, loaded with cancer-fighting Vitamin E and brain-building Omega 3’s, and it’s tasty to boot – a crisp, lemony green.
Wild lettuce is another ‘weed’ flowering on the farm right now, and it can apparently be used to make a form of opium. Extract the milky substance, reduce it to a solid, smoke it and you get a mild sensation of euphoria. More than a few of us grumbled in mock frustration at this disclosure, which was made only after we had chosen our independent projects for the year.
Yet another, Foxglove, is a stunning ornamental plant that may have been the inspiration for Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ painting. But not because of its beauty. Doctors used extract of Foxglove to treat Van Gogh’s epilepsy, but relief was often accompanied by the side effects of slightly yellowed vision and haloing around points of light – two attributes common to many of Van Gogh’s works. I don’t recommend loading up on Foxglove in the hopes of producing great art. Too much of it can be fatal, which is why it is also commonly known as Witches’ Gloves, Dead Men’s Bells, and Bloody Fingers.
Great names right? As we walked with our weed teacher, Dan Green, fellow student farmer Eliza and I speculated about the stories behind such spectacular and bizarre names. “Did the Lesser Stitchwart have an inferiority complex?” Eliza wondered. “Was she always trying to live up to her big brother, the Greater Stitchwart?” And what about the Box Elder, the Mad Apple, Shaggy Soldier or Everlasting?
This sent me into a bit of a daydream, the tall-tale results of which I’ll share here. But if you want to know the real story about each weed and learn more about their actual uses, Eat the Weeds, is a fantastic resource.
The Virginia Creeper lived in a broken-down motel on the outskirts of town. Behind his back, the neighbors called him Nonesuch. But he didn’t care. He could still remember a time when his life amounted to something. As a younger man of Nimblewill, he would venture down to the boardwalk just to sit and watch the world go by. For hours he would imagine himself a handsome Blue Sailor chatting up all the pretty young Hay Maids. But those days had long since past. Ever since the terror of the Poverty Rush, he had stopped sleeping. The memory of the Devil’s Guts splashing out on the sidewalk haunted him. And now, his Beggarticks were so bad he dared not set foot outdoors. Confined to the light cast by a rickety Blue Nightshade, he would scowl at the faces peering in his window sent to look in on his life of Shattercane and torment. “Touch Me Not!” he would bark sending them scurrying back into the light beyond the window. “Touch me not.”
–It’s hard to believe but there are only two more weeks of Farm School left!!! We’re busy picking our way through $5000 tomato harvests, processing poultry and raising the nicest timber frame wood shed you’ve ever seen – But then we’re off, into the great farming unknown. Updates to come…