I received a call from my neighbour at the end of last August, to let me know he is concerned that my horses are suffering from the burdock burrs stuck to their manes, tails and forelock, and also that they might become blind. He is also upset that all the seeds from the burdock and the thistle are going to blow onto his land. So he wants me to spray chemical herbicides over my entire 160 acre ranch to get rid of the plants. He told me about a product called Grazon that I can “safely” apply to only the burdock and thistle, and the horses can keep grazing as normal, no problem.
That’s his view, but a little research revealed a different picture:
“Areas treated with Grazon must not be harvested for hay within a month of application. If animals have grazed on treated pasture, they should graze on untreated areas for at least one week before being moved to areas with broadleaf crops, as their urine can kill sensitive plants. Manure from animals that have grazed on Grazon-treated areas is not suitable for compost.”
Not to mention the fact that Grazon chemicals will flow into the groundwater, and since his property is downstream from mine, all those toxins will be entering his drinking supply.
Having read Isabella Tree’s fabulous book, Wilding, I already knew this regeneration process was not going to be easy. Being in a remote area I didn’t think I’d have too much hassle from neighbors, since I only have 2 that border only the south side of my property – but nope, here was my neighbour upset at the prospect of weed seeds blowing onto his land.
But here’s the thing about ‘weeds’ – they are often the plants with really long tap-roots, 3-15 feet long, so they will bring up the minerals from deep in the earth. These are the minerals that are missing from overgrazed soil. So are they ‘weeds’ or are they nature’s medicine plants come to play a pivotal role in healing and restoring the land?
When I first bought the Singing Horse Ranch, back in August 2021, the land had been terribly overgrazed by too many cattle for 15 years straight. The first thing the land asked of me was, “No more cows!!” So I gave up my opportunity for Farm Status (which means a huge hike in property taxes) and only had 8 horses on the land for this entire year. I let the forage grow up unhindered (shoulder height in some areas) and there was an explosion of “weeds” and “invasive plants” like thistle, burdock, hoary alyssum, lamb’s-quarters, knapweed, tansy, and so on.
The power of nature to regenerate herself – and quickly – is astounding, if just given some time. This one summer of unhindered growth and non-interference means the land will easily be able to support 17 cow/calf pairs (17 mamas with their nursing calves) and the bull come Spring. Many cows love to eat burdock and hopefully the cows will keep the burdock eaten down when the plants are young. It also means that my horses have plenty of forage to last the entire winter, without me having to feed them hay.
So I talked to my upset neighbour briefly about Isabella Tree’s book, Wilding. I talked about regenerative farming and using animals to control vegetation. I talked to him about plants we call weeds actually being beneficial due to their 12 to 14 foot bringing up minerals. And that I knew the soil was deficient in minerals here – due to overgrazing – because my horses were hoovering the free choice minerals I put out for them. I explain that I have given the land a year to heal and balance itself. And I have cattle coming in the Spring. I tell him I am also trying to find sheep, but not sure if I can, due to the cougars in the area. He felt sheep would be impossible. And I explained that I believe this use of toxic chemicals is a large part of the reason the planet is in trouble right now.
I informed him that my horses are mostly wild and semi-feral and are used to being in nature alone, without help from humans. And I explained the value of allowing nature to heal and balance herself.
However, I could also tell that he could not hear me, or take in a word that I was saying. He had his idea of what I should do. And he believes that my poor decisions are negatively impacting his property. And he is not happy with me. If I don’t want to spray herbicide, he suggests I at least mow all the burdock and thistle within 100 feet of his land and then burn the plants.
Even though both of us remained calm and polite, and we both stated our position kindly, I find myself feeling very uncomfortable.
My chest feels tight and constricted. I have a panicky anxious feeling. Underneath that is fear. I am afraid that he will escalate things and report me to governing bodies that could take action against me. Or cause me a lot of stress and hassle. I wonder if he will report me to the SPCA. I wonder if he will attempt to enter my property and spray chemicals on my land closest to the fence. I feel nervous about being in conflict and fighting with someone who is well known in the local community and knows more people and has more resources than I do. Another part of me realizes that all of this is likely unfounded. But I have a newfound understanding of why so many people avoid conflict.
It’s interesting that this is the level and type of conflict needed for me to become afraid, constricted, and anxious. I’ve handled plenty of conflict in business situations, of course it’s not fun, but it doesn’t bother me too much. I also have no trouble handling conflict with loved ones, or people I’m in relationship with. Perhaps because I’ve had so much practice at that level of conflict resolution.
But this… I feel like I have taken a shot to the solar plexus and I am left struggling for breath. There is a visceral fear that follows on the heels of this. I feel vulnerable, exposed, and unsafe at an elemental level. I wonder what my biochemical/hormonal picture looks like right now? Am I flooded with adrenaline, cortisol, vasopressin, etc.?
My brain wants to rush ahead to answer the questions: What should I do? How can I make this better? But I force myself to stay present with my body, to really feel my emotions and allow them to flow, rather than shutting them down and locking them into my tissues and cells.
I am also feeling shame. I am ashamed that my horses are covered in burrs and there’s nothing I can do about it. I feel guilty they’re in such a state, although the only alternative would be to lock them up in the barn and hay feed them for most of the summer, which is ridiculous and impossible. Not to mention, the horses would be extremely upset with me if I even tried to do that to them.
I also feel shame that plants on my property are blowing their seeds onto my neighbours property and causing him stress and disappointment and anger. I wish I could make it better for him. I wish I could take care of him and his emotional state, so that my actions didn’t create negative emotions for him. All of which my brain knows is ridiculous. But my heart and my feelings don’t follow my brain’s logic.
I feel guilty and ashamed that I am a bad neighbor. Even though my brain knows I am following a higher wisdom, a holistic directive, and seeking to be part of the healing of this planet. My neighbour does not agree with any of my ideas or knowledge, in his mind I am simply an uncaring, ignorant, neglectful neighbour.
In Isabella Tree’s book Wilding, one of the most powerful passages is where she tells the story of the weeds that blanketed thousands of acres once they stopped controlling the land. One weed in particular, caused extreme distress to all her neighbors. They were not only shouting at her family, they were holding town meetings to rant and figure out if there was a way they could force them to stop letting the land heal itself. Of course in their minds, the land was not healing itself, no, Isabella’s family were being ignorant, neglectful, uncaring neighbours who were letting weed seeds blow onto all their neighbours’ properties and helping to destroy their farming income. Isabella said it was one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do. I’ve had just a wee taste of it, and I understand!
An interesting aside: How have we recently seen this exact same dynamic played out globally?? Where one group is convinced that X must be done to protect the health of the neighborhood. And the other group is convinced that X is actually not healthy and there are much better ways to ensure health? But the X group is dominant/mainstream and so applies massive pressure, coercion, shaming and threats to get the other group to comply?
When I visited the Knepp Wildlands, two years after the book’s publication and long after the land had balanced and proved itself to be a successful model, the local people were still angry. People I spoke to in the local pub still felt that Isabella Tree and her family had ruined the land. They still had no knowledge or understanding of what had been accomplished and how Isabella had pioneered a way out of the destructive farming of the last 100 years. In their minds, wild, healthy, balanced land was ugly and ruined. And they only valued monocrop grasslands dotted with sheep; no shrubs, bushes, trees, forage, etc. (which also means very few bird, butterfly, animal, fungi, or insect species).
A couple of days later I talked to another neighbour who is further down the logging road from my ranch. She is a former competitive horse rider and trainer, who ran a stable near Vancouver with 35 horses for over a decade. She now has just six horses on her ranch, where she and her paramedic/firefighter husband have lived for 16 years. She tells me they too have burdock everywhere, and there’s nothing you can do about it. She says that burdock does not injure horses’ eyes; that is an old wives tale.
She also thinks that the complaint against the burdock and thistles on my land is patently ridiculous. Aside from which, the burdock have already gone to seed, so to mow them now would just spread the seed even further and worsen the problem. The time to cut burdock as a method of controlling it, is in the Spring, before it goes to seed. Lastly, she confirms my feeling that to try and burn anything right now would be insane. She agrees there’s a good chance I could set the whole mountainside on fire and be up for criminal charges. She is aghast that my neighbour would suggest such a thing.
I text my neighbour: “So I talked to a few farmers and they all said that now would be the absolute worst time to cut burdock as it would spread the seeds even more. Spring is the time to cut back burdock. And if you cut thistle after the bud has formed, but before it flowers, it will not regrow a flower/seed that year. So usually June.”
And I wait to see if he’s going to be argumentative, if he’s going to escalate, or threaten – if he’s going to bring up the horses again…
But he simply responds:
So. Did he just need to speak his piece? Did he feel sufficiently heard to now be able to let things go? Who knows??
Well, I’m happy to have breathing room until Spring and fingers crossed the cows are going to help me out. Because it’s now winter, cold and snowy, and all my horses are still covered in burrs! And so the burdock dialogue continues…
JINI PATEL THOMPSON
I am. an international bestselling author, health product formulator, horse listener, earth singer, mother, entrepreneur, medicine woman, fungi friend, elephant acolyte and regenerative farmer.
I value friendships, loyalty, community, compassion, authenticity, health, vibrancy, strength, courage and truth-telling. More…