The sky is cloudless, the wind brisk, and the day without obligations: a perfect time for weeding. Elsewhere in the country the ground is frozen hard or covered with snow, but in balmy South Florida, winter is the perfect time to get a garden back in shape.
This time I have hired two helpers, novice weeders who are willing to do the backyard — the biggest eyesore — for five bucks apiece. They drove a hard bargain, though. Initially I offered my 10-year-old twin granddaughters $1 each.
“A dollar is nothing,” scoffed one of them.
“Five,” said the other.
“No way,” I replied. “Three tops.”
“Five,” they said in unison.
I was outnumbered, so I succumbed.
I identify the area to be tackled and the greenery to be yanked and then demonstrate how to do it. They watch, stone-faced and with their arms crossed. I know they’re uninterested in the garden. Money is the motivator here, and that’s fine with me. I want to encourage them to work, to earn their keep. There’s also an added benefit: saving for the future. They’ve been socking away birthday money and tooth fairy bonuses for a while now. At last count, they claimed $82 each, an impressive figure when you factor how difficult it is to resist immediate gratification in the toy aisle at Target.
We begin on our knees. We pull. We tug. We wrench. Some weeds slip from the soil with one swift motion, and along with them come stem, root and, on occasion, wriggling worms too. Others put up a fight. No matter how much we twist and turn, the weed remains stubborn. We must resort to a hand trowel or a mini rake.
As we move down the expanse the girls talk. About school and homework. About American Girl dolls and annoying fourth-grade boys. One twin is a fan of Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” books. The other is fascinated by anything to do with the planets, including Jupiter’s 67 moons and Saturn’s rings. In the outdoors, close to the earth, close to bugs and birds and decaying leaves, there is no talk about the red code drill they had at school earlier in the week. No talk about a world that I, half a century older, view as dangerous and predatory, a world that at times causes me to miss sleep.
The air is so clean, the grass so green. Sometimes the weeds even have tiny flowers they pick for their dolls.
“This is fun,” one twin admits.
“Kinda,” agrees the other.
It is, it is. I had forgotten about the soothing qualities of being outside, the therapeutic motion of weeding that is both mindless and invigorating. I hadn’t been doing much gardening, and certainly no weeding, for a while. Allergies, lower back pain and too many activities — the bane of the modern world — had cut into the weekend time I typically allot for this chore.
Now I’m sorry I let it go for so long, not only because the yard is a mess but also because I missed out on the comfort of physical work. Weeding a flowerbed gives you a sense of accomplishment, the pride of seeing something finished and tidy. It parallels the feeling I get when I’ve organized my closet, or sorted through the papers on my desk, or cleared my email inbox.
Of course I hate that I have to do these tasks again and again, that weeds sprout between cracks in the patio, that emails never stop coming in and that paperwork multiplies like rabbits trapped together in a pen. Then again, these activities fulfill a very human need to cleanse, to purge and start anew.
By mid-morning the twins and I are sweaty and spent. I offer cheesy Goldfish snacks as a reward. They’ve earned it. After all, for the bargain price of $10 I was reminded that weeding is a good exercise, for both body and brain.