Thriving: Be Like The Weed


It’s funny, as soon as I mentioned that I wanted to do a multi-part series on thriving, I ran into a bit of a downer month. It was like the world was telling me “Hey lady, you don’t know as much as you think you do.”

I ran into some big issues with a new co-worker and then my six-month check-up came up. I started to get depressed. No, the check-up was fine. I’m fine. And my issues with my co-worker will eventually get solved. But this was just a really good reminder how fragile learning how to live fully can be. It’s really easy to get derailed.

I guess it’s a matter of old habits dying hard. I have a lot of them, and they keep me from thriving at times.

When I look back through the past year, I realized that not only am I surviving a really tough illness, I am also learning to move past a lifetime of habits, to get to that place of thriving.

I’m far from being an expert on thriving. But I will freely share what I have learned so far and what I continue to learn.

Why do some things thrive, and some don’t?

I was out in the garden today, digging weeds out of our gravel driveway. At first, I didn’t really pay any attention to them.  They were just in my way; little blobs of green mucking up my vision of a pristine spot. After awhile though, I began to wonder why they were so lush. Why were they doing so well in a spot that was just rock and not very inhabitable.

I noticed that they were evenly spaced apart from one another. I noticed that they were all one type of plant. And I also noticed that they grew in a part of the driveway we don’t use very much.

Ok, ok, I know you probably know all of these things already. You’re also probably wondering why, if I’m such a great gardener, am I just now noticing this stuff.

It’s not that I’ve never noticed this before, but I’ve never really thought about it.  Some things you just accept as common knowledge. But these days, I’m wondering more about why things are the way they are.

Getting back to the weeds. These weeds are thriving. Each time I dig them out, they come roaring back. Why is that?

Well for one, they are native to the high desert.  They have already developed the necessary adaptations they need to live in this area. They need a limited amount of water.  Their leaves are designed to not let that water evaporate, and they are dull gray colored, which means they don’t absorb as much of the rather abundant sunshine we get in Nevada.

Second, the gravel driveway is a great mulch.  It holds the water in the soil and doesn’t let it dry out. Even after a really good dry spell, I can move that gravel around and still find damp earth. The gravel also insulates the dirt because it’s laying loosely on top, so there is oxygen.  In the areas where the we’ve driven over the gravel a lot, this doesn’t happen.  The earth is compacted and dry, and gravel is smashed into the ground.

Thirdly, these weeds have a heck of a root system, which is why they come back. Desert weeds either have a really deep tap root that goes way down into the ground at least a foot, or they have roots that spread out in all directions. Sometimes they have both. No matter how hard you try, it’s nearly impossible to get all of the roots and it only takes a sliver to start the plant up again.

Lastly, the plants space themselves out.  There is plenty of room between themselves and their neighbors. They don’t get so crowded that they have to compete for water.  Another interesting little fact is that since they are the same kind of plant, the roots are connected to their neighbor. It’s how they reproduce, and how they survive. They can also share their nutrients back and forth, helping the group survive.

And so, they thrive.

The more I thought about it, the more I decided that weeds knew a few things that I’d forgotten.

For starters, while I’m not native to Nevada, it’s been my adopted home for 30years. Most of us have moved from one place to another and aren’t really native to where we live. But we tend to choose the places we live because it fits us. In Nevada, I’m happy. I moved around a lot when I was younger. I came from a totally different environment. But it felt right when I moved here. The work  I do now, at the Arboretum, makes me happy. It fosters my love of plants, my need for community, and my desire to share nature with others. My life with my husband, makes me happy. It took awhile to find my wonderful mate, but life is so much more full with him in it.

So, what was mulch and insulation? It is simply basic needs, in the right proportions. Balance. It can be nutritional balance, emotional balance, and balance of activity, work vs. play. When you are in balance and your needs are met, it frees you to be your best self. When you are out of balance, you are so busy trying to just make do, you don’t have time for anything else. You can’t thrive.

Third, roots; that one was fairly self-explanatory. Usually we think of our family as our root system. However, my family has whittled itself down to just two besides myself. But I have great friends, neighbors, and I have place in the Arboretum where I’ve set my roots. But roots, while they reach down deep to anchor you, they also spread out to make new connections. Part of the ability to thrive, means you reach out and touch others. You find the similarities and you find your strength. With strong roots, you can rebuild when you need to and nurture those who need it.

Fourth, Give yourself some space. You can crowd yourself with too many tasks, too many hobbies. When you do, it’s hard to think or be creative. It gets hard to even reflect on what’s going right or wrong in your life.  Plants seem to know exactly how much room they need to thrive.  It seems to be harder for people.

So, how do we begin to thrive?

My first step is to be like the weed.



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