Every gardener is on intimate terms with the most abundant weeds in her or his garden beds. Here where farm fields surround2387a us, grasses are the most common and also the toughest with their deep roots in the heavy soil of the clay plain along Lake Champlain. Nettles are nastier though as they can leave one’s fingers for hours with an unpleasant tingle. The easiest is pigweed with its soft leaves and stem and shallow roots. It practically jumps out into one’s hands and withers almost immediately.

The summer we had an Afghan houseguest, the rich green of corn and grass in a neighbor’s field provided a strong contrast for a huge patch of yellow, a farmer’s cover crop of mustard. Our houseguest brought my attention to its beauty. We walked up the dirt road and back through the fields to get closer one sunny afternoon. Once we reached the cornfield, her gaze left the bright yellow to fix on the ground between the tall corn plants. She’s a good cook interested in preserving traditional Afghan dishes and was delighted to find a familiar plant, our pigweed, growing there in abundance.

When I explained it was an unwelcome weed there, we returned to the house with armfuls of it. She then washed and chopped to prepare a delicious, fresh steamed vegetable dish for our supper. The first summer I gardened here, I had so much pigweed among the vegetables I was raising for stir-fry, I’d idly wondered if I couldn’t fry it as well. Now I’ve learned it’s not only a favored dish in Afghanistan, but in many cultures around the world.

Seeing the farming area where I live for the first time, she had asked me, “Who waters this?” Her eyes were accustomed to orchards, flowers, and crops only where irrigation is possible and set against a brown, arid backdrop. And my eyes saw Amaranthus retroflexus as a nuisance to pull and discard. The soil, the sun, the summer give us so much. May I cultivate the eyes to see and wonder at its beauty and usefulness.