Learning to Love the Weeds

(You'll be pleased to know this essay has nothing to do with coronavirus.)

When I went apartment-hunting to decide where I'd make my new home, weighing the pros and cons of the apartments on offer, one thing I noted was how tidy the place I ended up choosing was.

The apartment itself wasn't the only tidy element; it was new since renovations and no one had lived in it. The building was also well-maintained—simple, clean, and modern. And although I could look from my small kitchen balcony and bedroom window to the ground floor patio-gardens below, there wasn't much to see but a blank canvas waiting to be adorned with plants.

I was okay with the blank canvas—the gardens were clean and the ground was covered with lightly groomed pebbles—kind of like a Japanese rock garden. And although devoid of landscaping, at least they were neat.

That neatness was visually soothing to me.

When I finally moved in, nearly five months after deciding on this apartment, I was surprised to see that the formerly neat (if boring) gardens had taken the late summer sun as inspiration to turn into a forest of weeds.

Weeds short and tall; upright and trailing. Some plants with flowers, but mostly just undefined mass of organic green tangle breaking up the view of the linear grey stone that walled the garden.

A Sign?

At first, I was irritated that the weeds were left to go crazy, thinking this inattention was a sign that the entire building would soon be crumbling into a state of disrepair. I probably even groused around for a bit.

As I set about to put my few possessions in order and to figure out how to use the space, I obsessed less about the now growing with abandon weedy wonderland.

Becoming acquainted with my new surroundings, each morning, I'd go out to the tiny balcony off the kitchen with my fresh cup of coffee and take in the sights, sounds, and smells (fortunately not too many bad smells).

It was during this quiet morning exploration that I noticed it—a symphony of birdsong!

Sitting on the metal barstool on the balcony, my hands wrapped around the warm coffee mug, I closed my eyes and listened. This music was such a delight—it felt like a confirmation of my desire to become a bird watcher—a meditative pursuit that would suit not only my disposition but the region to where I just moved.

Setúbal, the city where I live, is on an estuary noted for its local and migratory bird population, so this bird watching idea is not a far-fetched one. We even have flamingos here, although I've yet to see them.

Listening to the different calls, chirps, and songs with my eyes closed, I tried to pick out the distinct voices. While doing so, I heard what sounded like a rustling, which, upon opening my eyes and looking down, I noticed that it was neighborhood bird breakfast time at the weedy café.

Now it made sense!

What was unkempt to my eye was a haven for the birds that shared their songs with me. I started seeing the weeds rather than just looking at them, and I noticed much more than my initial prejudice allowed.

As we move into spring, unruly flowers are blooming—purple thistles, yellow daisies—and some horrible white fluffy thing that floats about when the wind kicks up, which I’m sure is the cause of my allergies. I reserve the right to dislike that one.

So now my neighbor's neglected garden is a source of joy for me, and for my beloved birds who peck around grabbing bits (presumably to add to their nests), and generally having a fabulous birdy time.

I said this essay was not about coronavirus, and it's not, but I started writing this long before lockdown. As I reflect on life now, I’m happy to have a bit of backyard nature to observe from my tiny kitchen balcony. I'm in love with the weeds—and I know the birds are, too. 

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Photo by Benoit Gauzere on Unsplash