-by Cathy Hird

Walking down the street in Owen Sound, I have to be careful about weeding other people's gardens. At home, I will pull ragweed or lambs quarters even when I'm just going for a walk. In town, people might appreciate it if I pulled these weeds out of their garden, but I noticed that several people left golden rod to bloom by their house as if they consider it a flower. It is possible that the homeowner likes the silver-grey colour of the lambs-quarters and let it grow on purpose.

I used to consider mullein a weed--that tall plant with velvety leaves and a spike of yellow flower. I knew a soy bean farmer who called the plant velvet leaf and studiously removed it from their fields. But a few years ago, I visited the garden of a friend, and I realized...that they let the statuesque plant grow to add height and interest. Now I leave a couple where they choose to grow. And my herb book says that a tea from the leaves helps bronchitis and that a tea from the flower relieves pain. So is mullein/velvet leaf a weed? An herbal medicine? A flower?

The words we use to describe the world affect the way we deal with it. In his play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote "What's in a name? that which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet." His story goes on to prove that names in human culture make a big difference.

The beginning of the Hebrew Torah contains two creation stories. The more familiar in popular culture is the story of Adam and Eve where one mistake has the first couple cast out of the garden of Eden. They end up in a tough world of toil and pain. Drawing on this story, protestant theology sometimes names people as sinners and the world as a difficult place we must endure.

The first chapter of Genesis is very different. The universe begins in chaos. The Creator then separates light from dark, divides the waters, and forms the creatures. With each step, the Creator saw that the world was good. This affirmation of the profound goodness of all creation gives places us in a world to be cherished and honoured.

It makes a difference if we see creation as a painful place of toil or an awesome space to be enjoyed.

One of the debates raging at the moment is around the use of neonicotinoids. The scientific evidence seems to say that the use of this chemical has adversely affected bee populations. Some farmers argue that it is a helpful pesticide and that we need to get rid of it more slowly so that alternative treatments can be developed.

I'm not going to jump into that debate. I just want to point out that fundamental in this debate is the name we give certain insects: we call aphids a pest, and bees a pollinator. Those names are true, but they also influence the way we treat the creatures.

We call mosquitoes a pest and forget that they are also pollinators. We call monarch butterflies pollinators and argue that we need to keep milkweed to support their population, even though some farmers would call milkweed a pest when it grows thickly among their soy beans.

Too often, we tend to determine the value of a thing in nature by how we use it. What if instead, we simply valued the goldfinch for the joyous bounce of its flight and the brilliance of the male bird's colour? What if we value fireflies for the magic of their flashing light whether they contribute to our garden or not?

A sunflower seed we know what to do with. A thistle seed? Much as I dislike the touch of thistles, goldfinches love them. I'm not fond of mosquito bites, but I do love the swallows who eat this insect. I miss the birds when they leave in August; I would be sad if they never came back.

Creation is complex, an interconnected web. Creation is absolutely amazing. Each creature has a place in it, a value in and of itself. It is all a gift to be honoured.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.