Following Charlie’s Creep

If you aren’t a gardener, you can skip this post, because it’s so nerdy, but there is a spiritual point, and I promise not to belabor it.

There’s a weed called Creeping Charlie that is actually quite a nice ground cover.  It grows fast, on fragrant vines, along the ground, under your grass.  Every few inches along the vine, Charlie sends some roots down to anchor himself, and his leaves are heart-shaped and as green as you could want.  But lawn purists like me insist that Charlie is a weed.  Never mind that clover grows similarly on trailing vines, but Saint Patrick’s shamrock, which he used to explain the Trinity, is a relative of clover, and horses happily munch clover, and the flowers of clover are really lovely, and so as far as I am concerned, it’s allowed in my lawn.

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Our infallible nextdoor neighbor, Ed Crandall, used to pay his sons a dollar for a grocery bag full of Creeping Charlie, and as I recall, the price was too low to inspire any serious pulling.  Charlie is not easy to remove: you have to pull gently if you want to get the roots, which of course is always your goal in weed pulling.  Look at American military adventures  in the Middle East and see how important it is to get to the roots: it’s not worth the bother if the thing is going to regenerate.

So today I was pulling weeds, mostly Mr. Charlie.  I tried lots of techniques, like combing the roots with my fingers to locate the vines, and twisting a cluster of leaves in the hope that I would get ahold of the hidden support system.  A few times, I was patient enough, and being on sabbatical, patience is something I can afford.  When I was patient, and very gently pulled sideways along the ground, I could see the vine straining eight or ten inches away, a clue that these few leaves in my hand were part of a chain that spread far away.  Pulling horizontally, the same way Charlie grows, yielded an amazing chain.

I was mostly kneeling on all fours in the shade, hearing three or four familiar bird calls and realizing that I don’t know which species is making which song.  Lynnell was off to watch Germany and Italy play soccer on the big screens at Brit’s Pub downtown and our houseguest Melanie was at the kitchen table, working on her application for another internship (this one in Paris, her home city).  It was a lovely afternoon.  One time, as I coaxed loose a pretty big root system, an earthworm slid into view, and spent a minute moving in the shade of the grass toward an undisturbed hole back into the earth.

Such a busy and purposeful world, with its underground tunnels and its systems of roots and vines.  And it’s invisible unless you are interested.  On this perfect summer day, religion seems like that: the human effort to pay attention to the invisible worlds that support us.  Whether God is more like the bird songs, the path of the worm, or the miracle of photosynthesis is something to wonder about.  Meanwhile, the ever-patient Creeping Charlie lets me feel accomplishment at banishing him from fifty square feet of lawn.

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I am the Upper School Chaplain at Breck School in Golden Valley, Minnesota, USA., an Episcopal priest, and the author of the world religions text "Tree of World Religions," available on I've also done two lessons for TED-Ed.

2 thoughts on “Following Charlie’s Creep”

  1. Just spent my whole Saturday hunting down Mr. Charlie – such a great feeling when you can find the vine!!! Only a fellow gardener would understand this insanity🌱😄‼️


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