I stood and stared uncertainly at the flowerbed under my kitchen windows for a few minutes. My hands holding the shovel clenched. I was scared to start dismantling it, but just as scared that if I didn’t start working on it soon I’d chicken-out. This flowerbed hadn’t been dug up for more than eight years. Would I be physically able to pull the dense vegetation apart, let alone out of the ground?
The original four small Russian Sage plants that I’d planted there now dominated 75 percent of the bed. Jammed between them were great whorls of purple bearded irises and purple spider wort that had gone crazy by sending roots to where there wasn’t even soil. Fat clumps of double daffodils fought for space with tall stalks of quack grass and even taller yellow mystery flowers.
My worries settled down as I quickly discovered that like with many things in life, even big things can be conquered by taking one step at a time. Sitting down on a lawn chair, I poked the shovel into the ground next to a big clump of iris rhizomes. By prying them up, they were loose enough to be pulled out and put on a tarp to be saved.
The gnarled quack roots were put in a pile to be burned. Into a third pile, I placed roots to transplant on the other side of the yard. Plans to give away many of the purple bearded irises formed. Who would appreciate and love them?
Harder than any other part of this flowerbed redo, was digging out the original four Russian sage plants. They were now huge and the roots went deep. As I dug, I discovered that the entire flowerbed had a net-like substructure of tough, woody sage roots! I’d have to hack them to pieces and pull as many out as I could. Would that be enough to stop their invasion?
Sweat dripped off my chin and trickled down my neck. My glasses fogged over. To take my mind off how annoyed and uncomfortable I was, I began to think about my childhood during the cold war with Russia. Our country recognized the Soviet Union as an evil empire. When I was ten years old, their leader, Nikita Khrushchev, frequently threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. He once said, “Like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you.”
Hacking away at a resistant Russian sage root, I thought, “Nikita made a lot of threats about how he was going to defeat the United States. Mom told me that he said that feeding us socialism little by little would give him victory, though not immediately, but through our children.” With a huge pull, I yanked out a large root. Victoriously holding it up, I thought, “Khrushchev must have had a cold war plan ‘B’ to export Russian sage to this country. He probably figured that if the propaganda didn’t work, the invasive sage roots would gum-up our agriculture, and result in our economy collapsing.”
Working steadily, I put joking thoughts aside. The cold war wasn’t funny. While growing up, the threat of nuclear bombs worried everyone. My school had never made us practice hiding under our desks in case the air raid siren ever went off. What was the point? The desk wasn’t enough protection for us. Some people had cement bunkers built underground in their back yards. The thought of how horrible life would be for the few atomic bomb survivors made me think of another Khrushchev quote, “The survivors will envy the dead.”
Later, after I’d extracted many of the Russian sage roots from the flowerbed, I went into the house and took a shower. I thought, “propaganda and Russian sage roots may both take over, but even if only one person fights against them, the tide of victory can be altered in our favor.”