On Goldenrod, With Apologies


Photo credit: Beth Kanell

For the past twelve years, from mid August to mid-September, I have conscientiously and diligently pulled out, by the roots, the many varieties of goldenrod from where they grew along the edges of the woods. This is not a small job: I have 30 acres here in Vermont, though fortunately no tromping into the interior was needed.  Only a pair of garden gloves and a long sleeved shirt. And getting in my back stretches first.

Here is a shot of this year’s goldenrod still blooming along the edge of our woods. See how it stands out, even now a week or two after its peak.




Why was I doing this you ask appropriately. I pulled it out in honor of my son David who suffers from what the doctors call “allergy induced asthma” in the spring and fall. By tearing out the goldenrod by the roots each year, I was effectively killing it off. Eventually, I figured, Dave would be able to visit in the fall. This was my belief.  I never doubted that my actions would produce the result I wanted: an allergy-free visit from Dave.

What a waste of good energy!

However, this is not a post about visiting children (and grandchildren), nor is it a post about living on our Vermont farm, though they’d both be fun to write about.

No. This is a post about beliefs and how we grab hold of them and hang on tight without really exploring why.  I mean, really, who has the time?

  • Eliminate fat from your diet; not sugar. Remember that one from the late 1960s?
  • Socialism is a scourge; we must stop it before it reaches our shore. I seem to be hearing this one more since Bernie took to the campaign trail. My inner political scientist wants to educate; maybe another time.
  • Vaccines cause death and should be avoided at all costs. Oh my; where to even start on this one!
  • And goldenrod is an allergen and must be eradicated. Guilt by association it appears.

These examples are the ones that come most readily to mind as I type this up. Your list might be quite different and just as valid.

What I’m interested in here is how rarely we stop to question our beliefs: objectively, curiously, courageously. We get attached to them, identified by them. And on we march.

To lose that belief is to lose our sense of who we are.

Fortunately, I was not terribly attached to my goldenrod-as-culprit dogma. In fact, learning I no longer had to pull it out was quite a relief.



As I mentioned at the start of this little essay, I’ve been yanking out my goldenrod by the roots since we moved in up here in 2007. I was a believer in the badness of this bright yellow wildflower. Our landscaper told me it’d be a good idea and, city girl that I was, I went with it.  Then a carpenter here to do some work convinced me I might be misinformed. So I googled it, just to be sure.

Goldenrod, it turns out, is far too heavy a pollen to get enough lift to land in our noses. Instead, it uses pollinators to move its pollen around. Ragweed pollen, the real culprit, on the other hand, is airborne and flies around until it lands, sometimes on a flower, sometimes in a nose.

Goldenrod, also known as solidago — a genus of about 100 to 120 species in the aster family –has suffered the classic guilt-by-association fate. It also gets the blame because it is much more vibrant in color and more noticeable. It’s what we see.



Now if only I could explain the upsides of socialism, vaccinations, and fat with a simple side by side photo.

How about you? What are your beliefs based on?

16 Responses

  1. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    I think we grow up with the beliefs our parents, school, peers give us and I probably haven’t wondered about them until 2016–now I research most things–especially as you don’t want to put mis information out on facebook. I guess the one that worries me at the moment is that a majority vote wins the Presidency of the US–well, we know that isn’t true so how are we going to win in 2020?

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I think you hit the nail on that proverbial head, Susan. We do grow up adopting the beliefs of our parents and peers, usually without really thinking about them. How freeing it is to know we can start to assess them for ourselves at any point along the way. As for 2020, there have been so many times recently I’ve been expected to predict the future (What shall we invest in? Do we sell now or wait five years? What shall I wear? (i.e., will it rain today?)) I’m trying to stay in today. And I’ve upped my contributions to those organizations that can do something about 2020. Oh, and I cross my fingers. (except when I’m typing). 🙂
      Janet Givens recently posted…ON GOLDENROD, WITH APOLOGIESMy Profile

  2. Joan Rough
    | Reply

    When I lived in Danville and was raising sheep, I used goldenrod as a natural dye for the yarn I was spinning at the time. It makes some beautifully subtle yellows and yellow/greens depending on the mordant you use.

    Anyway, our belief systems are a mystery to me. Look at the state of our country for example, and the need to use fact check to make sure we’re telling it like it truly is. With government officials who consistently lie about what they are up to, who is surprised?

    We get caught up in all sorts of gobble-de-gook, like around here in Virginia some people believe that rattle snakes and black snakes mate and produce poisonous black snakes. So they go about killing useful black snakes who keep our rodent population under control. It makes me very sad.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I never heard of goldenrod used as a natural dye, Joan. How neat was that! I didn’t realize you were such an earth mama. 🙂

      Hearing the plight of your black snakes made me very sad. When I think of what gets me angry, what I always come up with is willful ignorance, especially willful ignorance that leads to death. Gets my entire body into an uproar. I’ll still say thanks for sharing though. Good to have you here.
      Janet Givens recently posted…ON GOLDENROD, WITH APOLOGIESMy Profile

  3. Heather Alger
    | Reply

    Delightful read! Yes, letting go of our beliefs!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you Heather. How great of you to join us. I hadn’t thought of letting go of all our beliefs, just starting afresh. Anew? Empty? I expected that might be a bit scary, but so far, no. It feels freeing somehow. The open mind, the empty cup. So many metaphors for this idea over the ages. It’s the attachment to our beliefs, the myopic focus on a single issue, the “my way or the highway” mindset that scares me the most. Time for another deep breath. Thanks for stopping by.
      Janet Givens recently posted…ON GOLDENROD, WITH APOLOGIESMy Profile

  4. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    “What I’m interested in here is how rarely we stop to question our beliefs: objectively, curiously, courageously. We get attached to them, identified by them. And on we march.”

    No truer words. I think that is one of the biggest traps to personal growth. I’ve been musing on that idea in fact. I’ve come to realize that in the last few years I’ve been tossing aside many tightly held beliefs that heretofore meant so much to me. Defined me. Now I care less about judging/defining myself and other people, and more about moving forward, not getting stuck.
    Ally Bean recently posted…Revisiting The Quaker Questions: Say What? Naked Who?My Profile

  5. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — I’m late to the Goldenrod party because I’ve been speaking at the Women and Leadership conference at Boise State University for the past two days.

    I enjoyed reading this post. It brings to mind something I wrote in Note to Self: A Seven-Step Path to Gratitude and Growth:

    “Any belief worth embracing will stand up to the litmus test of scrutiny. If we have to qualify, rationalize, make exceptions for, or turn a blind eye to maintain a belief, then it may well be time to release that belief.” —Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted…Egg On Your FaceMy Profile

  6. Terri Lyon
    | Reply

    Lovely post, Janet. Thank you. I find with age I give myself much more grace than I used to. Thankfully!
    Terri Lyon recently posted…What Rewards Will You Get Out of Activism?My Profile

  7. Paige Bainbridge
    | Reply

    Wow- how insightful. I love how you compare the pulling of Goldenrod to all those other examples of assumptions we make. And that sometimes we need to pause and do more thorough research into Why we do what we do. Thank you!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Paige and welcome. Yes indeed, how easy it can be to just go along as we’ve always done, without really understanding why. I’m all for stopping now and again and revisiting.
      Janet Givens recently posted…A Look At Fake NewsMy Profile

  8. Cindy
    | Reply

    I’m glad you found out that Goldenrod is a friend! I’ve learned over the years that many plants that I considered weeds have great value. I love the lessons that nature teaches and your experience illustrates a powerful one. We certainly need to examine beliefs and evaluate them and examine their origins. Thank you for a thought provoking post!


    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      And thank you for visiting, Cindy. I’m so glad you stopped by.

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