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    Weeds, Robots, and Flame Throwers

    Our garden is coming up and so are the weeds. Among the tulips and irises you’ll find the excited growth of other unwanted plants. Green little shoots that look simple today but may one day choke out the veggies and flowers. It’s our job to get out into the garden and save it from being overrun. It’s our pleasure to care for and tend to this garden.

    But weeding is hard work and this is where technology comes to the ‘rescue’. Inventors have created a little robot that allows gardeners to walk away from their weed problems. The robot has little off-road wheels, and like a robotic vacuum, it zips around the yard with a little mini flail, chopping and shredding weeds (and other small plants). Another innovation is a weed flame thrower. Charged up with butane, this wand allows you to burn any unwanted plant, leaving only smoke and char in its path. Robots and flamethrowers; the gardeners’ best friends.

    I asked Lyndon Penner what he thought of these innovations. He is the author of numerous books about gardening in Alberta and has often appeared on the radio to talk about gardening. In no uncertain terms he was clear: these miss the whole point of gardening. His answer was surprising. He said, “When I go out into the garden I am touching something that is real and vital and alive. A garden is not something I bought in a factory, you can’t upload a garden, you can’t download a different season, there are whole rhythms of weather and sunshine. There is a sense that we are a part of it, but we cannot control it. When we control it we miss something important going on here. Gardeners tend to their garden, and enjoy it. They don’t lord over it.”

    Lyndon Penner believes that gardening is hands-on work. We can only learn about, know, and enjoy our garden in meaningful ways if we are in the garden, up close, and working within its limits. My wife Kelly was about to pull out a bunch of weeds when she discovered that they were not weeds, but a valuable flowering plant that had sprouted up in that area. If she had sent in a robot or a flame thrower, she would have missed all of the beauty that was emerging in simple and sublime ways.

    Similarly, the wellbeing of our neighbourhoods must be in our attentive hands if it is to thrive. It is easier to believe that the government or some un-named entity or technology will make our community better. But two things happen when we leave the health of our community up to those who are not close to our place. First, we miss the joy of being a part of a beautiful, growing interconnected neighbourhood of people. When we stand back, we no longer become participants but observers. Secondly, small and important corners of our neighbourhood might never be nurtured if we do not see and celebrate it together. It takes a community to build a community, for the sake of community.

    May we never relegate the health of our neighbourhoods and city to a hands-off task. May we know the joy of connecting with our community and sharing in the hope of creating something beautiful together. Your place matters, how will you get out and into your neighbourhood this year?