Pulling Weeds and Telling Stories

July 27, 2020 § 14 Comments

PullingWeeds_June2020By Carole Duff

Before the sun heats up the day, I retrieve a large scrub bucket, weeding fork, and garden gloves from the storage bin under the deck and head into the meadow and planting beds that surround our mountain house. My daily quota: one scrub bucket of weeds, so I don’t wear myself out and lose sight of what I’m doing. Although I love the grasses, flowering shrubs, meadow anemone, goat’s beard, wood aster, cone flowers, and yarrow, also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, it’s the weeds that get my attention. Most are stand-alone singletons, such as stilt grass, a recent invasive that can outcompete native plants. Though stilt grass is easy to pull by hand, the repetition becomes tedious. So many seedlings, going nowhere.

The weed I especially like to pull is a creeper, probably a variety of Pennywort, that roots and sends out runners along the ground. When I find that creeper—here in my grasp—I pull and pull and pull, following the vine until it breaks. Then I search for its root and pull again. A creeper is like a storyline thread or through-line that moves the reader from one rooted scene to the next. Meadow creepers like the Pennywort weave around a story’s characters and move the plot along without competing with the setting.

Another creeper that roots in our meadow, a mock strawberry, produces what my sisters and I call “starving” strawberries. Its flowers are yellow instead of white or pink, and the fruit though edible tastes bland and dry. Roots and vines of the mock strawberry—on my forearm—require digging with the weeding fork and even then, don’t pull easily.

The moral of this story is: not all creepers produce good threads, though there are plenty to pull. As Jill McCorkle wrote in an article titled “Haunted,” in the February 2017 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, “I have often told my students that if you walk around with your eyes and ears open, you can’t possibly live long enough to write all of the potential stories you will glimpse along the way.”

And so, every morning I retrieve my scrub bucket, weeding fork, and garden gloves from the storage bin under the deck and walk into the meadow and planting beds, eyes and ears open. After the sun warms the day, I sit at my desk and write—cutting fruitless singletons and looking for a creeping thread that pulls easily.

I won’t live long enough to pull all the weeds or tell all the stories I’ve glimpsed along the way. But I will achieve my quota:

One large bucket each day.

Except in winter when, like pulling singletons and creepers, I remove leaves from ditches and shovel pathways through snow.

Carole Duff is a veteran teacher, flutist, and writer of creative nonfiction. She posts weekly to her long-standing blog Notes from Vanaprastha, has written for The Perennial Gen, Streetlight Magazine’s Blog, and Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, and currently is seeking representation for her book titled Wisdom Builds Her House: A Memoir about Faith, Love, and Forgiveness. Carole lives in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband and now three overly-friendly shelter dogs.

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§ 14 Responses to Pulling Weeds and Telling Stories

  • […] This week’s note from Vanaprastha: another guest blog of mine that went live today on the Brevity Blog site. Many thanks to Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore for publishing my piece, “Pulling Weeds and Telling Stories.” […]

  • This is genuinely lovely—revision as poetry. The poetry of revision.

  • Michael Lewis says:

    I love this essay so much for a couple reasons. First, I know the pennywort well and just yesterday morning felt the gratifying tug of tracing the root back to its origin. I love how it unlaces through the grass or mulch and then pops from the ground at the source. This is just a great analogy for writing, finding that throughline for the story. Sometimes we need to trace it back to where we lost our story thread, what Dinty W. Moore, in his fabulous book, The Story Cure, calls the heart story or primal story, or, in Moore’s words, the “Invisible Magnetic River”. (The Story Cure is an excellent book and one I highly recommend!) Other times we need to plan ahead–make a clearing in the wild for what will come. Your meadow creeper analogy works both ways. I also love how you show the difference between threads that are easy to follow those that aren’t. So important and so well-stated.
    Perhaps more important for me is the idea that you just fill a scrub bucket each morning–a goal that is realistic and, over time, will keep the garden looking good and the story moving forward. Thank you for this wonderful submission. You made my morning!

  • Carole Duff says:

    Thank you for your kind words, Michael. I’m glad my creepers spoke to you this morning. Yes indeed, The Story Cure is a tremendous resource.

  • Mary Jane Roper says:


  • What a lovely analogy! Thank you especially for this bit of wisdom:

    “I won’t live long enough to pull all the weeds or tell all the stories I’ve glimpsed along the way. But I will achieve my quota:

    One large bucket each day.”

    I need that reminder when I feel overwhelmed. Maybe I’ll put it on a t-shirt! 😉

  • Elizabeth Losa says:

    I llove your lessons from the gardening.

  • I love the image of a storyline like pennywort’s roots and runners! This morning I pulled up some creeping Charlie (very similar to pennywort) and the sense of all those threads going everywhere is very vivid. Useful analogy with the nonstarters like mock strawberries. Thanks for giving me a new way to think about storylines!

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