Bishop’s weed

A reminder to myself.

The school is now locked down to dodge Covid-19 but the work of its gardener continues. There are flowers to be admired (the little cowslips have appeared, is there anything lovelier?) vegetables to be planted for the children’s return (or eaten by us if they don’t come back in time) and weeds to be removed. I say weeds but, in fact, my attention is focused almost exclusively on one weed in particular; the heinous Bishop’s weed.

Bishop’s weed is not something smoked by prelates wishing to acquire a patina of peacefulness before their Sunday sermon. It is a pernicious weed that spreads by seed but also, more invasively, through its underground root system. If you remove everything but one tiny piece of the root, back it comes. It is like that woman who is lying dead in the bath one moment and the next has risen with a knife in her hand. Her. Remember? It is the stuff of nightmare.

Last autumn, I spent many weeks removing every fragment. I told Jimmy, my neighbour, who also suffers, that I had removed Bishop’s weed completely. He looked at me in his practised way – he is a doctor used to the manifestions of delusion in all its forms – and said nothing. Well, Bishop’s weed is now back, threatening once again to overwhelm our lovely, gentle wild flowers; and my relentless pursuit of it continues.

And yet, and yet, is it right that someone who sits for hours a day in meditation should be so attached to the destruction of a mere plant? Don’t I know that attachment is misery? Don’t I, along with the old Scots poet, William Dunbar, understand that, ‘Our pleasance heir is all vane glory/ This fals warld is bot transitory.’

And if the world, and everything in it, is transitory, (as it is), the conclusion must be – though this was not Dunbar’s – that we should look upon the things outside ourselves with equanimity. The stuff of the world will come and go, do its thing as it will, and be quite beyond our control. The best we can do is a bit of weeding, try to mitigate at the edges – just so long as we don’t come to believe we can change the nature of things as they are.

I understand, or at least the saner part of me understands, that the nature of Bishop’s weed is such that I’ll never remove it. I might reduce it, keep it from overrunning the garden, but it will always be there lurking in some corner. And so it may be also with this coronavirus. To be reduced, perhaps, but not eradicated.

Dunbar’s conclusion from his observation of the world was a fear of death (‘timor mortis conturbat me’) but this is not the logic of the thing. If all about us is vainglorious and transitory – Bishop’s weed and the virus alike – there is no point in ruffling our internal waters by wishing it otherwise.

And such unruffled detachment is definitely something I’ll try to practise as I remorselessly hunt down every last piece of that blot of nature, that skulking weed.