Sunday, April 22, 2007

Roman Legions in the Garden

If you think I am being fanciful with vikings in the living room and Romans in the garden, rest assured I am only embroidering the truth. This part of Scotland is full of living and silent testimonials to peoples and times gone by. The Romans were here and the vikings and the Picts and many generations of tribes of Celts. Caithness presumably gets its name from one of those early tribes that called themselves the people of the cat. Oh, yes, there were wild cats, here, too. Not the large wild cats of the savannahs or the mountains of North America, but small, wily creatures not much larger than housecats. As with the Romans and the Picts and the Northers, it is not clear if any remnant of those wild cats remains, but the possibility is there, which is all a fertile imagination requires.

My fertile imagination and I are out in the garden with my two semi-wild cats. As soon as he heard the back door open, Solomon appeared from the flower bed outside his cottage home. He probably had a nice sunspot, but he is always the first to join me as soon as I come outside. He is a stalwart companion, or, as his older sister would say, a momma's boy. She joins us quietly later. I become aware of her only because Solomon trots up to greet her, and the birds that have been making alert calls redouble their efforts.

I don't know whether by accident or by design, but the birds cooperate in announcing the presence of the cats. The first was a large gull flying low overhead and calling out shrilly. Now I am aware of starlings at the corners of the walled garden and smaller birds, wrens perhaps, twittering. Solomon and Sheba seem unconcerned with the birds as they frolic with each other, hide in the grass, leap over each other, and come occasionally to watch with curiosity what I am doing.

I am clearing out a Roman legion. A legacy left behind by the hungry, homesick Romans who brought their own idea of food into what must have seemed a strange, cold place to them. Bishhop's Weed, as it is known today, grows all too well here. The fate of plants that thrive too well, even those former darlings of the empire that brought us Pax Romana, is to be cursed and ripped from their mighty positions. Other people may just pull weeds; I redress ancient grievances and reclaim the Celtic traditions. I am Boudicaea; Bishop's weed are the oppressors.

"The Romans make a desert and call it peace," Tacitus allegedly said. Today I am trying to make a desert in just a tiny patch of one of the formerly resplendent flower beds in this garden. I have the intention of making a desert, well, not literally, but at least of removing all the apparent Bishop's weed, covering it with damp newspapers so that communication with Rome is cut off, and the supply lines cannot feed the troops.

In the space cleared of its Roman invaders, I will then create a garden of my own delights. I think Calendula officialis, which thrived in my kitchen garden would do well here. Like Bishop's weed, calendula is edible. Last year, I collected and dried the petals to use as dyestuff for some lovely white soft wool just crying out for a hint of summer flowers, but my imagination is outstripping my desertification. Even with Solomon's help, digging beside me like a meercat, the empty spaces pale against the forest reminaing. I call a truce, cover the cleared areas with several layers of newspaper, and prepare to return to the comfort of the house. A phrase from Russell Crowe's aide de camp in "Gladiator" comes to mind, "A people should know when they are beaten." He was talking then about the Germans and foreshadowing Russell Crowe's own heroic stand as a gladiator, but just now I am not sure whether the Bishop's weed or I am doomed to ultimate destruction. In any case, it will be an epic battle.
Thanks to Lynn Bitter, another Bishop's Weed scourger, for her photo and her stories about Bishop's Weed,'sweed.html


At 5:30 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

You have enlarged my knowledge not only by this essay but by motivating me to look up Boudicea.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Everyone should know about real warrior queens, don't you think? Red Sonja and Xena pale by comparison with her.

At 9:39 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

I thought you were well north of Hardrian's wall -- not that the weeds would respect a political boundary, even one made of earth and stone...

At 8:29 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

We are well north of Hadrian's wall. There is a theory that the brochs--tall, defensive structures or homes or both that are so common up here may have been built against Roman slaving ships. The Pentalnd Firth was a busy highway for thousands of years.


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