“The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment.” –Unknown
When I was little, maybe 6 or 7, I used to ask my mom why certain flowers are called weeds.
Plucking dandelions from the lawn, I’d comment, “Aren’t weeds supposed to be ugly? Dandelions are pretty.”
My mom explained to me that a flower is called a weed when it isn’t wanted.
“People don’t want dandelions in their yard, so they’re called weeds.”
When a wildflower pops up among meticulously placed perennials in the garden bed, it’s an invader, unwelcomely disturbing precision. It is the harbinger of mischief in a petaled sea of peace. For where one weed grows, many will follow.
I spent a fair amount of time in the garden growing up, though not always digging up dirt to plant seeds. Sometimes I was looking for four-leaf clovers so my sisters and I could iron them pressed together between two squares of wax paper, preserving luck for generations. Sometimes I was building homes for earthworms and “potato” bugs, arranging pebbles and leaves as sofas and tables for the creepy crawlers of the earth.
My childhood was nurtured by nature, for it has been in the dirt and the grass and the trees and the weeds that I have learned some of life’s greatest lessons.
A small patch of flowers stood out to me on one of the mounds in my mother’s garden. I fell in love with the burgundy flower heads, rimmed with crimson quickly fading into vibrant yellow.
“One of many types of painted daisies,” my mother said. “A weed to some people but not everyone.”
I have seen painted daisies in various colors across dozens of landscapes, but I never came across that color pattern again. Until two years ago when I traipsed through a garbage dump in the Bahamas.
Rummaging through rubbish heaps is a regular pastime on Long Island, Bahamas, where one man’s trash really does become another man’s treasure. On a particularly blistering day, I found myself hopscotching over upturned car doors and broken mirrors heading toward a patch of grass by the dirt road. Empty glass bottles were pinched in my grasp, teetering on the brink of disaster as I scurried to add them to my growing collection in the truck bed.
As my ankles straddled a sullied plank, I looked down at the ground to plan my last jump toward freedom. There at the base of my right foot was a painted daisy, growing tall and wild and proud, echoing the colors I remembered so clearly from two decades ago.
A weed, I thought, that by any other name would smell so sweet.
There among forgotten and discarded man-made possessions grew a tenacious little flower, its wiry spirit disparaging the rolling piles of waste. An invader claiming back the land where once fields of its kind–wildflowers, weeds–likely thrived.
A protester, dreamer, leader, fighter, nonconformist.
Steadfast, virtuous, invincible.
Like the dandelion.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” –William Shakespeare