If you have done any farming in the US, you know what it is. Even if you don’t realize it, you’ve seen it – big clumps of grass with plumy seed heads in the summer. This is healthy young Johnson grass – no seeds yet.
We walk to La Tabla Grande (each field has a name here!) with a borrowed shovel. Maybe it’s a spade – it’s the only shovel around here that isn’t a flat for-shoveling-gravel one. It’s about 6 inches wide, and maybe 20 inches long. The sun is shining and it promises to be hot. But, oh, it’s so beautiful here walking along the tops of the fields. Green and blue and brown and green and blue and brown. Hills and fields with houses in the distance. A bright red bird.
We pass one field that looks like all weeds. It’s been replanted, but it looks awful, although the little plants are visible in their rows. We pass another one that there is much speculation about. The owner is famous for using and over-using chemicals. They say he has spend over 50,000 dollars, not pesos, on his lands. So far. Some fields look “clean” and healthy, some have puny plants.
Chiggers can be a problem, and it’s not fun to think about them. It’s also not fun to think about how many times people have said “You can’t get rid of Johnson grass, but you can try to control it.”
We start digging the Johnson grass that has invaded the edge of our field. It’s tall and in clumps, and it grows all the way to the bottom end of the field. Here’s how we do it. The person lucky enough to be doing the digging digs close to the clump of grass. Since the blade of the spade is so long, you have to raise your leg pretty high, then really put your weight on the top edge of the spade, and send it as deep as you can into the ground. The person lucky enough not to be doing the digging picks up the big clump – it’s hard and sticky, like a huge, heavy black wad of gum, then bangs it on the ground (not very effective) or the knee or leg (effective, but increasingly painful). Then the grass with a little bit of sticky dirt still on it gets heaved onto the road.
In one spot where the grass is thickest, Chon decides to dig deeper, because he is sure there are more roots down there. He uncovers what he calls a nest of roots. It’s thick and knotted, and it’s about a foot and a half under the surface. He digs down further and finds more roots. They are very thick, about as thick as a child’s finger, and very white with pretty pink streaks. They look frighteningly healthy. He digs some more, and he’s about two and a half feet down now. There are more. We leave them for another day. Later someone tells us the roots can go down two meters. I don’t believe it.
We do this for two hours. We didn’t think to bring water or food. Ni modo. Next time.
We are returning to the house. Chon sits down on a rock to rest, but I keep plodding along, thinking about chiggers in the grass around the rock. Soon I see that he is up, and cutting across the furrows in the field, and he’ll soon be ahead of me if I don’t walk faster. I’m a little ahead and he asks “My Friend, are you tired?”
He says he’s tired too, and if he had to run for some reason, he’d have to think hard about it first. He puts the spade across his shoulders and hangs his arms over the handle. He says it feels like he’s carrying his arms on his shoulders. He is.
At the house we eat tamales and zucchini flowers cooked with onion and tomatoes, feeling happy.
Something to meditate on – they look good enough to eat, don’t they? Cows love ’em.
my sister sent me this succinct comment:
Another Sorghum species, Johnson grass (S. halapense), is classified as an invasive species in the US by the Department of Agriculture.
I know from experience that it invades by sending its seeds down ditches. It's smart!!
but I didn't know it's sorghum!!