The War of the Roses
This week I was privileged to visit one of my dearest friends ever. Miss Shuler is one of my most favorite people on the planet. Beyond our long discussions about anything and everything, she’s one of the first people I consistently turn to for advice.
I met her when I was just a terrified little (I was tall then actually) Freshmen at The Citadel. My friend Jimmy stopped to talk to her on campus one day. All I got from her were aggressive glances through squinted eyes and comments to Jimmy like, “what’s wrong with that one?” Miss Shuler believed in making sure every Freshmen cadet got a “system” (Citadel terminology for having an appropriately difficult first year). Yes, even some of the faculty mess with cadets.
During my Senior year I took her “team building” course, which was one of my favorites. Every time we met it would be somewhere new. From time to time we would be in a classroom, but often class would meet in the barracks, behind the mess hall, or even in the sands of the obstacle course. Her classes taught us by forcing us to pool our skills and talents to solve simple problems through teamwork. I particularly enjoyed how hands-on it was. I learn best when I have to work through a problem using my hands. If we figured it out too quickly, she would find a way to make it more of a challenge for us.
Miss Shuler and I see eye to eye in many respects which is a major reason why we’ve stayed friends for so long after I graduated. Beyond a playfully morbid sense of humor, we share a common passion for following Jesus, as well as fixing up and building stuff. Her home is a cross between an antique store and a construction zone. For those of you who saw my apartment/workshop in Mt. Pleasant this shouldn’t seem an unusual hangout for me. It’s not uncommon to sit around having tea with her amidst buzz saws, lumber and extension cords. Neither is it unusual to get roped into a construction job of some form. Visiting her is an experience every time and this time was on par with the norm.
Thankfully this time we weren’t crawling under the house with las cucarachas to stuff insulation into her floors. Instead, the project was to transplant her “kudzu rose.” It’s more of an invasive pest than a garden flower. In the right location the rose bush is highly effective for punishing unwary neighborhood children cutting through her yard. After making some space along the boundary lines of her property, we set out to dig up the beast and make an organic fence out of it. We spent a couple hours irrigating the root system and shoveling the mud around the roots to the side. Using our combined mental prowess, we decided uprooting the rose with her car would save us some time.
We Mickey Moused a primitive rig using webbing, carabiners, steel cable and an old heavy-duty electrical cable which we attached to her station wagon. In my Navy ROTC class I learned about the dangers of “snapback.” Cords rupturing under high tension, particularly synthetic ones, have often been responsible for removing eyes and at times heads. Remembering this minor detail, I waited for the cord to become taught as she pulled forward then I hid behind the nearest tree to avoid decapitation. I had a fleeting thought that went something like this: “What if the cable snaps back and shatters her windshield? That’s so silly. It’s too low to the ground to do that.”
Listen to your gut people!
Guess what happened? The cord snapped as she pulled forward. The eye of the loop closest to her car popped, sending the cord back toward the rose. Whew! It snapped the other way. Then we looked at the rear windshield. It had this funny frosted look. I knew Miss Shuler’s car was dirty, but this seemed funny somehow. It turns out that frosted look had to do with the angle I was looking at it from. When we examined it more closely, we noticed that her windshield now consisted of a loose confederacy of glass particles now mainly held together by a force the greater science community calls “friction.” The window was shattered.
Post autopsy reports suggest the shatter was caused by the blunt-force trauma of two carabiners impacting the glass at speeds undetectable to the human eye. Though the steel cable had snapped away from the window, the whole physics thing about having equal and opposite reactions meant the straps with the carabiners likewise had to go somewhere. I think it would have been more beneficial to team morale if the straps with attached carabiners had shot low and dented the license plate instead. Unfortunately they aimed for the stars and missed—missed right into her back window.
Rose 1, Us 0.
With little to lose other than more dignity, we rigged it up a second time and pulled on the roots again. Again, I hid behind something to ensure that if/when we failed again I would be able to visually affirm our losses and express my anguish by crying pure, blood-free, tears. As she boldly pulled forward again, the eye on the other side of the cable snapped under the tension. With no reportable damages this time, we decided it was better to quit while you were behind but still amongst the living.
Rose 2, us 0.
Miss Shuler threw in the towel and decided to focus her efforts on damage control. I would do the same in her position. She ran inside to call her insurance, hoping it was covered, which it was thankfully. Her parting words to me are hazy. In the fog of defeat I am unable to quote her verbatim, but it was something to the effect of: “I’m going to call my insurance. Try to dig it up again. If the accursed rose resists again, cut it all the way to the ground.”
That rose bush was my Carthage. Cutting it to the ground would have allowed it to possibly live again. If I couldn’t uproot it, I would have to go further. With all the vigor of Scipio Africanus, I looked aloft and proclaimed in a loud voice: Nay, thou wanton rose! I shall burn thee to the ground and ploweth salt into thine soil where ye shall lay in bitter defeat, that no shrub may ever rise in thy place again. Thy thorns shall I dull, that infants may use thee as a plaything. Thy buds shall I trample as the dust on the ground. Out of thy stalks shall I maketh paper with which to wipe my… You get the picture.
I like plants. I really do. They make things like oxygen and apples and paper. But I hate losing to them. Losing to animals is acceptable, maybe. Some of them are larger, faster, stronger, and maybe even smarter than me. I’ll give a great white the right of way—well, the whole road if I’m found in the surf sans harpoon—but not a plant. Plants can’t attack. They can’t run away. They can’t hide. Weak little things like insects kill them all the time. They don’t even have brains! I hate losing to plants. What could be more humiliating?
I digress. It was a grave task. As I looked into her eyes, I knew I might never see Miss Shuler again, but I would go to my grave to subdue this rose bush if need be. I had to avenge her windshield.
Armed with a garden hose, a shovel, a small hatchet, and a large vat of napalm (not really, but that would be cool, wouldn’t it?), I marched out to lay siege to the recalcitrant garden flora. I attacked its root system with pressurized water, loosening up the soil then shoveling it away.
As I cut into the thicker roots, the shovel became as tactically proficient as a reed in a gunfight. Napalm is enticing to the eye, and everything is more awesome with fire (even gardening) but I still had the option of humiliating it. Simply cutting it down would allow the plant to possibly live on and to have the satisfaction of holding its position to the end. That was too good for it. I used more water to expose the roots, creating a silty black moat around the root system, then assaulted them with the hatchet. As I slashed at the roots, my strikes disturbed the muddy water, sending streams of it all over my body.
After the first splash of mud I threw out any hopes of defeating the stubborn foliage unsoiled. I will take you down rose. I hacked at it for at least 25 minutes before I knew it was defeated. With each stroke of the blade I moved closer to victory. Eventually I broke the herb’s spirit. To add insult to injury, I pulled it out of the ground by hand. Take that sucka’!
Oh, sweet vengeance. I stood there holding the rose by its roots, like a Viking grasping a slain sea-monster by its bloody lifeless flippers. Holding their chief like a helpless infant, rumors of my cruelty spread like dandelion seed through garden plants in Miss Shuler’s yard. This new-found deference among the garden foliage came in handy later that evening as the wild blackberries squatting on her property paid tribute to us with an abundance of their ripest fruits.
Rose 2, Us 1.
The math clearly doesn’t add up. We may have lost a couple battles, but we definitely won the war.
Miss Shuler celebrated by banishing it to the frontier, to serve as border patrol from now on. How humiliating for the plant, right?
The moral of the story: Never let plants win.