Rubel: Contemplating A Truce With The Long-Rooted Nemesis In My Backyard

Aug 28, 2019


Commentary: During the last three years, my relationship with the weeds in my backyard has gone from indifference to a burning antipathy. 

It got to the point where it was personal long ago. An existential struggle. Mano-a-la mala hierba. 


My indifference, perhaps better described as neglect, during what was a particularly wet summer resulted in weeds the size of redwoods. My fear was that I’d have to chop ‘em down with an ax and deal with the stumps later.


I got a warning left on my door from a Codes officer about weeds in the front yard, and did enough from then on to maintain some semblance of control out there. But I just let the backyard go. By fall, the weeds were way taller than I am. I decided that was enough.


I didn’t really need an ax, but I was afraid my electric weed whacker wouldn’t cut it. And, they’d just grow back anyway. So, I started pulling. 


Pretty much every morning. It got to be a daily routine. When I started, the weeds seemed endless and the task hopeless. But they were so big and clustered together that I was able to make a dent, while at the same time building some impressive mounds of dead weeds.


I just left everything sit in piles until this year, when I decided to start filling clear plastic yard bags. During the past several months I have sent more than 40 35-gallon bags of weeds to the landfill, via the city’s Green Grappler.


And then one morning a few weeks ago, it happened. I went out just like always, but had to search to find any weeds. There weren’t nearly enough to fill my bag. Victory!


Oh sure, I knew it wouldn’t last. All over my backyard, little sprouts of weeds are poking through the dirt, just waiting for the next rainstorm. The weeds were here long before me, and will be here long after I’m gone. I knew all that. But for this tiny moment in time I felt triumphant.


I was still feeling that way last week when I went to a City Council meeting on this very subject. More specifically, the debate was about whether to stop using the weed killer Roundup, which just added to me feeling of triumph. I cleared my whole backyard without one drop of poison.


Then, at some point in the meeting, my worldview toward weeds was challenged. Not all weeds are evil, the experts were insisting. They add vegetation to barren landscapes. They provide pollen for bees. Some even have medicinal purposes.


Great, now I’m the bad guy. Well, somebody needs to tell the Codes officer hanging threatening notices on my door.


This all kind of reminds me of the recent debate at the county about what to do with nuisance animals. In both cases, it is about how we co-exist with our desert environment.


After months of discussion, the county voted to restrict lethal methods of removal, without fully understanding what the impacts of that decision would be. When the restrictions proved to be unworkable, they were repealed.


After months of discussion, the city voted to ban Roundup, without fully understanding what the impacts of that decision will be. They may just switch to another chemical. They may do more mowing or weed whacking. Or they may, as the experts suggest, decide that not all weeds must be killed.

But I doubt it. The more likely scenario would seem to be a backtrack, just like at the county.

As for me, I’m ready for a truce with the weeds, I’m just not sure how to negotiate it.


Walter Rubel can be reached at