November 2019

Removing Choke Weed.

“What is a weed? A weed is any plant that’s growing where you don’t want it. Some weeds are ugly. Some are pretty. But nearly all share the nasty habit of growing out of control, coming up everywhere, and making you want to shut yourself in a dark room watching Wendy Williams trash Hollywood celebrities. That’s bad.”- Southern Living Magazine

My lilac trees were being invaded. Summer after summer since I moved in to the house where I am now living-I would watch a snake like vine creep into my lilac trees, twisting and turning, from the ground up and poke out of my trees. Once the vines reached the top they would jiggle about untethered, waving as the wind blew, waving and declaring victory over my lilac trees. The vines had such a hold on my trees I could swear they were bending, not able to stand as tall, while the weight of the weed pulled tighter and tighter, not giving a care about the pending buds and blooms. The weeds were winning, damn it. This year I had enough of the vine teasing me. That weed, sometimes in a trio of evil green ,peeking out, taunting me to get the ladder and dare to put an end to the entrapment. I started early in the day before the heat took hold. I was determined to remove the vine. I hauled out my ladder, took out various sized clippers, put on my garden gloves, my work boots( it matters to look the part) and set out on my mission. All before nine o clock in the morning.

After an hour or so, my neighbor drove by, backed up, rolled down the window and shouted up at me as I perched on the highest step of my ladder.

Wha’cha doing up there, Gloria? Yah using the wrong clippahs and yah nawt gonna be able to remove that vine. Wha’cha need ah good loppahs, the light kind, nawt the heavy kind, and ya gawtta staht at the bottom with that kinda weed.

By now, in the heavy heat of a New England July, I was covered in sweat, bugs, and bits and pieces of leaves and vine. I had gotten right in there, right in the thick of the entangled branches and so far had been successful. This was evident from the vine droppings littered at the base of the ladder. Each time I would pull a twisted vine from a lilac branch, I would curse it knowing there were more twists and turns linked to other branches and other trees. The vine was knotted up and wrapped around so many branches, that by removing one, another leg of twisted weed was uncovered, and then another . I was dismantling the twisted tentacled Tetris like weed with a furry.

Yah ‘nawt gonna remove it that way. Nawt that kind.  No sir, he said.

He sat there in his car, air-conditioner blasting, rolling down the window to comment and then rolling up the window to keep the cool air inside the car, all the while watching me cut away the twists and turns of knotted mess.

My neighbor is sure to be in his late 80’s. He is that neighbor that all neighborhoods have. He cares for his ailing wife. He is somebody’s father, somebody’s grandpa, a church going God fearing man, who does not particularly care for my statues of Buddha, but so be it. He tends to be a little on the grumpy side.His lawn is perfect and he likes to see things in the neighborhood are just so. Once he asked me why all the brush I had cleared was still on the curb. I had no answer for him. The next day all the brush was neatly bagged and curbside. I felt incredibly guilty.


As I stood on the ladder, listening to my neighbor give exact instructions on how best to remove the vine, I turned to him and asked if he knew the name of the vine I had been attacking, bit by bit, in the mid morning sun.

Oh that?, he said.

That there is choke weed. Yah gawta staht from the bottom, rip it up from the root, or else it takes ovah ev’rythin.

He rolled up his window and drove off, headed to his perfectly paved driveway.

Choke weed.

And there, on that ladder, near the very tip top of the lilac tree, I yanked the last remaining bit from the top, sat down in the dead heat and cried a sweaty, snotty, heaving cry. You know the kind.

Choke weed.

Nature is a metaphor.

Choke weed: You have to pull it out from the root or else it twists and turns its’ way into any existing branch. It works its’ way through all parts of the tree until it reaches the top, and there without any other branches to hold onto, it begins to squeeze what is left of the tree, pulling tighter on what it has already gotten a hold of until you cannot really tell where the branch begins and where the vine ends.

Choke weed.

I will never know if it was nature giving me a nudge, or if it was my own leap into another way of being. I will settle on it being a little of both. Clipping away at that weed, ripping it away from the way it wrapped around the healthy trees and then digging the base of the weed out from the ground, thus ending its reign over the trio of lilac trees was delightful. It was powerful. It was the beginning of new growth. With as much super human strength it took to remove the choke weed from my trees, I began to remove my own personal choke weed from the branches of my innards, from the soil of my soul, from the deepest darkest parts of my roots. I just stopped allowing weeds to take hold, and I got rid of the weeds that had been in place for too long. I started making decisions to cut away the people and places that I was working so hard to care for, to help, to nourish, when all they were doing was wrapping and twisting more and more around my new growth. I’d cut back some of the choke weed, but it was not enough. I had not yet learned, that just like choke weed, I could not cut it away year after year, hoping the dead of winter would kill it. I had to dig it up, and get rid of it. I had to realize choke holds of a dysfunctional family do not disappear because of time and distance. We can draw the line in the sand but the weed still grows, and has a way of winding itself around new growth, making it harder to move forward, to say no, to stop seeking affirmation where it does not live. The chokehold of unrealized dreams can become the death of other dreams, and the weeds of time gone by, love lost, grief and pain just need to be dug up, from the base of the rotting root and discarded.

It this easy? No. You know this. We know this. Any master gardener will tell you the longer weeds are in place, no matter how pretty or ugly, the longer weeds steal the nutrients from the other plants. It might take longer, it might take a season or two, or ten, but removing choke weed, digging it up from the rotted root, is the only way choke weed dies. Once you dig it up, it stays gone.