Weeds and Work
I've had a short stint now landscaping massive homes around Jackson. Homes that you never knew existed. Homes that are hidden down dusty roads and are obscene. Homes that are rumored to be tax dodges and are hidden. That are part of the problem here in the valley, but, where even are they?
Sometimes we weed and I don't like that as much as planting because it seems like we're taking life rather than giving it. And in weeding quite a bit over the past two weeks I've noticed two interesting patterns in the amount any particular plot requires.
The first is that there are significantly more weeds on plots where, during the building process, much of the surrounding natural system was destroyed. In riparian cottonwood systems, if much of the cottonwood population is left standing weeds seem to almost never arise. But, in spaces where, just to get to the place where the massive home will go much of the trees were removed, in those areas weeds thrive.
The other pattern is related to aesthetic preferences of the landowners themselves. Those that prefer "landscaping" that has a large majority of indigenous plants—lupine, aster, yarrow—rarely require much weeding. Simply, the indigenous plants out-compete the weeds. In contrast, in beds populated largely by typical enjoyments—tulips, mints, etc.—weeds flourish. Weeds outcompete the plants that are brought in from afar. This should be intuitive.
Or not intuitive. But it seems real. I'd love to see the rich folks of this area find more interest in planting the beautiful native species, as opposed to replicating some standardized aesthetic in every massive home they've bought. It would be really cool to plant a plot where the typical phenological cycle of this area is managed and dialed. That would be cooler than this incessant weeding and annual installation process. That said, the stupid aesthetic preference of these folks has employed me for a time now. Its funny...there's more work to do when we work most against gravity, against the course the system is trying to move in anyway.
That is nearly the definition of work, right? Its the amount of energy expended to work against, in many high school physics problems, the force of gravity. Its often measure it in Joules, which is essentially calories (1 calorie = 4.184 Joules). In the case of weeding we're expending calories to work against the vector of biological succession, or the "natural" course of things. When we talk about work in a physics context we can measure or quantify the calories it takes to move a brick a resting place on the ground to a resting place on a table. In this same way, would it be possible to measure the work expended fighting against the succession of a biological system?
I tend to believe the course of biological systems—although significantly less predictable from out current detached, jaded human perspective—is as certain as gravity. We can think of evolution as similar to gravity in an energetic sense. And in this same way the concept of work should apply to both. How many calories does it take to move a biological system from one resting place to another? How much work does it take?
How much do I have to weed? I have to weed more in places where there has been more destruction, and where random plants are participating in the ecological conversation. When more indigenous plants are present to be a part of that conversation, when spaces are already closer to a recognizable equilibrium, it takes much fewer calories to bring that system to equilibrium.
And for the rich folks reading this, when you are paying for landscapers you are paying for calories. Human bodies are just mechanisms for calories to be spent. More calories mean more money. So, if you wanna save money, plant species that are closer to a local equilibrium.