Idaho Weeds 2

Idaho Weeds 2 (Personal Essay)

Despite our current president’s abiding affection for Russia, Dave, an old farmer I once knew, said Russia was our biggest threat: “They seeded the jet stream with weeds. That’s how they plan to take America down. Russian thistle and kochia weed.”

“But what about their nukes?” I asked him. An hour later I was still listening to Dave’s ideas on Armageddon, the Apocalypse, and the Sign of the Beast (which according to him, was possibly our social security numbers.)

I think old Dave had a point. Not about Russia or Armageddon, but that weeds could be weaponized. Once we saw a man stop at a gas station in an SUV covered with fine green Kochia pollen. He must have done some off-road Baha-ing. As soon as he emerged from the driver’s side, he bent over coughing and sneezing, barely able to hold the gas nozzle in the gas tank. I thought he might have an easier time dusted with bear spray.

Oddly, kochia weed is actually a Russian (Eurasian) import. A hundred years ago there was no kochia in Idaho. Now the roads and highways are lined with it. Once, I found an old seed packet of kochia from the 1930’s, in an antique store. I was amazed. Why would anyone want to plant the stuff? Later Wikipedia told me kochia was an “escaped ornamental.” Looking at the bushy patches around our farm I thought this was a huge understatement.

I have to admit though, when I first came to Idaho I knew nothing of the 67 plant species classified as noxious weeds, so I mistakenly cultivated a kochia weed in my flower bed. I remember faithfully watering it and spading around it a little to give the roots room to breathe. It was so full and healthy looking. This plant was well, growing like a weed.

One morning I opened my front door, glanced in the flower bed, and was shocked to see my beautiful plant–gone. I’d become a victim of a terrorist attack. My husband, the terrorist, had apparently pulled my plant from the flower bed as he walked by it. He told me it was a weed, a kochia weed, and he like old Dave would not tolerate this Russian invasion.

Idaho Weeds 1

Idaho Weeds

I’m sitting in the front room looking through the blinds at the plant beds in the yard, filled with all kinds of bushes that tolerate Idaho’s alkaline soil: rosy Barberry, dwarf Blue Spruce, and variegated Euonymus. Seeing all this green in a desert climate is wonderful, and I feel like I’m living in an oasis paradise until I spot all these scraggly weeds evilly wending their way up and around my other plants.

For me “Idaho weed” is not a psychedelic experience, but a psychotic one. Idaho weeds can be crazy-making if you’re a gardener. My mother-in-law told me once you have to be tough to live in Idaho’s desert. At first I thought she was trying to discourage me from marrying her son. But now I think she was being genuine about how harsh the desert is: the drought, the wildfires, and all these horrific weeds that are not bothered in the slightest by our dry climate.

The big tip-off on weeds in Idaho should have come at that memorable Thanksgiving dinner I had with my husband’s family after I first moved here. There was a problem at dinner, but it wasn’t the typical family gathering snafus: an aunt farting at the table or a cousin telling a naughty joke over the mashed potatoes. The problem was grandpa, who as a farmer, found the table centerpiece objectionable. He started yelling and throwing his arms, pointing accusingly at the the table. Aunt Maxine, creative muse that she was, had gathered all these interesting stalks of Indian tobacco, dried Kochia, and Russian thistle weeds to make an attractive holiday centerpiece.

“Get those weeds out of here!” Grandpa said. “I spent all summer long fighting them in the field, and I’m not about to say a prayer of thanks with weeds sitting in front of me!”