The Roots and Shoots of Requiem
(Keigetsu Heather Martin)

Good and evil have no self nature.
Holy and unholy are empty names.
In front of the door is the land of stillness and quiet;
Spring comes, grass grows by itself.
~ Master Seung Sahn
It was winter when we moved in, and the grass was all dead. Just as the masters assured me, however, spring came, and the grass grew by itself.

There were a thousand kinds of birds, strange little wildflowers, horned lizards and roadrunners. My favorites were the black swallowtail butterflies whose bizarre, maroon-and-orange horned caterpillars feasted on the tiny pipevines growing here and there in the lawn. The previous owner had been inattentive though, and the heartiest-looking grass soon turned out to be sandburs. They were thriving right where we walked of course, robust with the advantages of spilled garden soil and rainwater pooling from the sidewalk. I pulled off the seeds from time to time in passing from the house to the car, silently cursing the last owner for his laziness, with the expectation they would soon die without having managed to re-seed. When they persisted, I started pulling them up from the roots by hand. I paid for it with pricked fingers, and for each I pulled, five grew back around the edges of the old plant. It wasn't long before I started finding them spreading to the open, sunny part of the yard. My little fellow fell one day and stood up screaming, with several burs in his soft baby hands. Pulling them out was agony, and they left angry red spots for days.

That's when I got the shovel.

Their blades looked so much like the surrounding grass that I could only spot them by their evil seeds. I would follow a cluster back to the center of the plant, feel around the edges to find its full shape, and dig. Easy enough -- they were shallowly rooted. The path I walked every day was finally clear, and they didn't re-sprout...until the following spring.

I could see the burs growing in the neighbors' yards hanging through the fences and spreading their malignant germs right into mine. I watched the cats saunter home, casually plucking burs from their fur and dropping them in their favorite bathing spots. There's no controlling that, even if you don't own cats. Mowing more often just made them send out creepers low to the ground, seeding as much as ever. I kept digging, silently cursing both the neighbors and the cats for thoughtlessly undoing my hard work. It was truly disheartening to turn my attention to a disused and shady part of the yard one day, to find that burs actually do best in parched, ignored places, where they grow deep roots and tangle themselves into a dense carpet of corruption; I was just looking in the sunny, well-traveled areas first. Most of the people who saw what I was doing shook their heads and chuckled a little, saying something like, "Good luck with that," but not always meaning it. Quite a few told me there was no way but poison. "Or fire," they might add with a grin. A few though, nodded knowingly and offered some hint of encouragement: a certain digging tool, perseverance....that would let me keep the pipevines and caterpillars while ripping out those neglected spots. So, I kept at it.

Every time the boy got stuck, it deepened my hatred of the burs. I was doing it for him, but I spent hours digging in grim determination until he had to whine for me to stop and play with him. In a hurry now, in any spare minute I grabbed at them in fury, sometimes accidentally tearing at the grass I wanted to keep, and got jabbed so many times that I developed an allergy to their barbs. My fingers would swell so much that they were painful and difficult to use. I tried gloves, but the burs went right through them, and they dampened my ability to feel for the edges. The third year, I found new burs sprouting in the exact places where I had dug them up before. By paying close attention, I discovered dried seeds were clinging to the base of the plants, and by digging in a frenzy, I was actually planting them for the following season.

Those were my burs. Not the the previous owner's, not the neighbors, not the cats wandering through. Mine. No denying it.I may have cursed out loud that time.

So I slowed down. It took a good while, but I learned to rest, to balance my time, to feel for the edges gently to spare my fingers. I learned to discern sprouting burs among the grass and pipevines even before they bore fruit. I sifted carefully, carefully through the dirt to find waiting seeds. As I worked, I stopped noticing the origin of the seeds, ceased panicking every time the boy found a bur with the sole of his foot, and didn't think much about whether there was hope for eradication. I began to notice the radiant green of the new shoots. I wondered at their fecundity and hardiness and tenacity under almost every condition. I have a clear memory of sitting in awe of one plant in particular, with admiration of the elegant curve of its leaves, the delicacy of its spines, subtly tinged a beautiful purple at the base -- so sharp, and so perfectly suited for their purpose. And then, with great appreciation and reverence, I dug it up by the roots.

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