My name is Marc Daniels and I am the eldest grandson of Ross Daniels, the inventor of the Ross Root Feeder®. Having devoted the past five years of my life to researching and writing about the spiritual, cultural and ecological roots of gardening, I believe that I have acquired a unique perspective worthy of your consideration. I come here today on the occasion of Dr. King’s historic 1963 “I have a dream” speech to ponder the weeds of prejudice and contemplate those of our gardens.
The famous English poet Swinburne said it well: The rose is taken; The rocks are left when he wastes the plain; The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken, These remain.
So why did God, or if you are an agnostic, Mother Nature, give or rather plague us with such wind-shaken weeds? Is there any redeeming value in the countless hours that farmer or gardener has to spend in field or fallow rooting out this unwanted vegetation? Is there some hidden, mystical purpose in the botanical tension that has been plaguing farmers and their fields, and gardeners and their gardens since time immemorial?
Perhaps the answer lies in the realization that the antithesis that emerges daily between field and flower may be one of our greatest natural resources; perhaps our utmost national treasure.
But not for the reasons you may think obvious.
As the eminent German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “antithesis is the narrow gateway through which error most prefers to worm its way towards truth.” A truth that may be, in the words of our Declaration of Independence, self-evident.
If weeds are indeed errors of nature, at least in terms of their utility to humanity, perhaps we can fathom some hidden purpose or meaning which can yet redeem them.
Oscar Wilde, in the Ballad of Reading Gaol told us “Vile deeds like poison weeds bloom well in prison air, it is only what is good in man, that wastes and withers there.”
Wilde, as you may recall, became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890’s. Today he is remembered for his many epigrams and plays which are still revived, and the tragedy of his imprisonment and early death. Sued for “gross indecency” because of the prejudice of others, he effectively recognized that poison weeds of prejudice and bias need to be extracted if the goodness of man is to see the light of day.
What then if we could see in our gardens—and in ourselves—an opportunity for redemption, a remedy to the poison of prejudice that afflicts our handiwork and our hearts?
Perhaps, weeds, like all living things have a positive and negative nature: the Zen-like duality of yin and yang. Good and evil. And if we pluck them out, could we not use that occasion to implant the best of intentions in not only our gardens—but in ourselves? And if not for ourselves, for our children?
My friends, this is the path that I’ve pursued these last five years. And one that I can urge you to consider taking. For in the words of the Scandinavian proverb, “Go often to the house of thy friend; for weeds soon choke up the unused path.”
In recent days, my journey has taken me from the cities of Des Moines, Iowa to Springfield, Illinois. In each of these lovely towns where Americans of every stripe experience the joys and frustrations of everyday life, I am happy to report that their city governments have taken a momentous step, a giant stride that I urge each of you take on your own initiative.
You see, the cities of Des Moines and Springfield, on the occasion of this important date in American history, a time that commemorates another great figure who battled the poisonous weeds of hatred, have each issued proclamations urging children everywhere to enter their yards and gardens and pull out a symbolic weed—roots and all—as a means of eliminating hate and prejudice, thereby keeping the spirit of Abraham Lincoln and the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. alive and well in our hearts and in our gardens.
These proclamations provide us with a great beginning, but my vision for the future looms larger. It has been fifteen days since I first spoke of this dream at the Lincoln Home Historic Home Site, where the roots of Abraham Lincoln and our nation run deep.
Today, on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s pivotal speech, I call on children of every ethnic, racial and religious stripe to pull out a symbolic weed from your gardens—and your heart. Not only do I challenge you, the children of our great country, but you who live in every corner of this big blue marble of a planet. Liberate yourselves to experience the possibilities of a prejudice-free future and the inner ecology of the spirit that Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King surely experienced, and died for, as they nurtured and re-invigorated the roots of freedom loving people at home and abroad.
In the words of Dr. King, I too have a dream, a dream that elected officials and those running for office, including the President of the United States, journey to Springfield at least once during their terms of their office, and on special occasions such as this, to pull a weed for themselves and for their country. These leaders are caretakers of the public trust. What better way for them to execute their responsibilities than to first connect to the deepest roots of our Promised Land through visible acts of horticultural symbolism. May it be an honor of the highest order to extract a weed on or near the very grounds where Abraham Lincoln’s roots run deepest.
I have a dream, a dream that for just one day, the people of New York, the people of this country, and the people of the world, can shift their gaze from lower Manhattan uptown to Central Park. And perhaps on some future commemoration of 911, let us dream that all the world’s children descend upon the Sheep Meadow and together, like lion and lamb, Weed Out Hate for themselves and for the rest of us.
As they weed out their seeds of hate, and as they cultivate our great park, may their weed heaps of hatred grow into hillocks of hope, and may their knolls of knowledge mature into mountains of righteousness—monuments of virtue so grand that they will surpasses the heights of the Twin Towers themselves. Let these mountains of hope demonstrate our resolve, first to ourselves and then to those who would attempt to destroy us, that such an outpouring of communal goodwill would send an unforgettable message that they cannot and will not win.
Then and only then, will the soil of our Promised Land be fertile enough to block any weed and deter any worm that would desecrate the fruits of our connections with Nature and our own inner being. Then, and only then, will the litter that afflicts our parks and our hearts be purified.
That ladies and gentlemen is only part of my dream. If Dr. King were alive and here with us today, I would tell him one more thing: That I’d want to help fuel the fire that he implanted within our hearts forty seven years ago this day. Whether you’re African American, Native American or South American; European or Asian; Christian, Muslim or Jew, I’d lend him my support and urge my family and friends to fan the flames of friendship so hot that they would transform any ice cold soul into a fiery spiritual diamond: A diamond burning bright with self-awareness of selfishness, radiating rainbows of rectitude and luminations of love; treating each other as we would like to be treated, each rainbow leading to a pot of gold whether in our hearts or in our gardens.
I dream of telling Dr. King that the root of this rainbow is the spirit of Nature: the desire to forge bonds of tolerance stronger than the hardest stone. And I would confide that we are of kindred spirit. As the eldest grandson of the inventor of the Ross Root Feeder, a tool that has been used for generations to nurture nature, I’d join him in irradiating the latent weed seeds of prejudice not only for me but for those laboring under the illusion that they are free from bias while they inadvertently communicate it to their children and passively share it with their friends. It is my deepest belief that by educating children how to garden, they will not only learn new and valuable educational skills but also that by nurturing nature they would nourish their own inner spirits.
This then is the time to harvest our goodwill. Take the opportunity of this September 11th to march out to your yard or down to Central Park and extract a weed of hate for yourself and for your nation. And today in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and in recognition of Abraham Lincoln, may those who cultivate the gardens of the spirit and those who guard the gardens of stone consecrate our call to action. Let freedom ring. Let’s weed out hate. Let freedom ring. Amen.
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