by George Ringwald

THE FOREST PRIMEVAL ... that's what we have in our backyard. The expletive deleted forest
primeval. A forest of weeds. It's a jungle out there weeds so thick that even the deer can barely stumble through. When they do, they don't bother to munch on the weeds. Oh, no. They graze on whatever good grasses they can find or nibble at the blossoms on the apple tree.

"The weeds!" I tell them encouragingly. "Try the horsetails."

Horsetails. I discovered that's what they're called because Kimiko, my wife, said she knew what they were called in Japan sugina. So I got out my Japanese-English dictionary, and Bingo! sugina, "a field horsetail." Followed that up in the Webster's Collegiate, which told me to look up "EQUISETUM." And there it was, complete with picture. One of the "lower tracheophytes," I learned. And "a fertile plant," which I'd already guessed.

It wins the prize for plant fertility in my book. One visitor took a look at our prize-winning equisetums, and said knowingly, "Oh, they've been around for millions of years."

Well, fine, but why in our backyard?

The only other of our weedy bunch that I know by name, of sorts, is what I've heard called an Indian onion. It runs a close second to the horsetail in fertility and tenacity, and I can't talk the deer into eating them either.

So I hied me to the hardware store to buy a weed whacker. What I had in mind was a sickle you know, as in hammer-and-sickle, the old USSR emblem. The hardware store man said they don't have those anymore. Went out, I guess, with Russian communism.

He sold me instead today's version of the manual weed whacker a gizmo with a stout three-foot-long handle, and at the bottom a horizontally slanted, wicked-looking serrated blade.

"You swing it like a golf club," the salesman told me.

Hey, right up my alley! Because Lord knows I've spent enough time in the rough on the golf course. So I hacked away (just as one the links) for three or four days, but didn't make much headway, with either the weeds or my golf stroke.

"Weeds all over. We have to do something about it, don't you think?" Kimiko suggested.

Well, yes, but I figured it was too late to sell the house and move back into an apartment, where you'd have a landlord to look after this kind of thing. And I am dissuaded from another possible alternative by the words of Cyril Connolly, a noted curmudgeon, who said: "There are many who dare not kill themselves for fear of what the neighbors will say."

I can just hear them now: "Look at that, would you? Ol' what's-his-name strangled himself with a rope of equisetums and Indian onions. Tsk-tsk," they'd say.

Oh, I almost forgot the gophers or moles, whichever, that are turning up fresh mounds of dirt almost daily on what I think of now as the back forty. They, from what I've heard, are as indestructible as the weeds.

I do note, however, that they don't seem to come up under the horsetails. Got better sense, I guess. Some of the neighborhood cats have lately taken to stretching out on our backyard deck, and I tell them: "If you were any good, you'd be out there catching gophers instead of lazing around all day." But, as cats are wont to do, they pay me no mind.

What gets me is that you never see backyards like ours in those magazines that tout the gracious and good life of home owning.

A recent issue of House Beautiful tells of a 60-year "romance" that a woman has had with her farmland, 30 miles north of New York City. It was "love at first sight," as she tells it. So it was with ours, come to think of it until El Nino brought out the weeds in glorious profusion. As the writer said of this woman in New York, "for six decades she has been planting and enhancing it."

Only six decades? Great. By the time I'm 130 or so, maybe ours will be equally enhanced.

Another story that caught my eye was in the March issue of Today's Homeowner. "The War on Weeds," it trumpeted.

Hah! That's what I want to hear. Turned out, however, it wasn't all music to my ears.

"Just one dandelion plant," the author wrote, "makes up to 15,000 seeds, each of which can survive six years in the soil creating 15,000 more seeds when it sprouts and matures."

And we don't even have dandelions! None that I've noticed so far, anyhow. Maybe they're just lying back in the weeds, waiting for us to clear out the horsetails and Indian onions.

The article advises that the best way to control weeds "is to grow a thick, vigorous lawn," which is supposed to block the sunlight those thousands of weed seeds need to germinate. But we're talking "lower tracheophytes" here, and somehow I don't see them giving in to any tenderfoot grass seeds.

The author concedes that "hand-weeding is still the best defense," then adds, however, that this is "on small lawns where the number of weeds isn't overwhelming."

Needless to say, I am overwhelmed.

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