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Seeing Beyond the Tumbleweeds

The Rev. Lori Walton

In the southeast portion of Washington state, along highway 260, traffic came to a standstill for 10 hours on New Year’s Eve.  It wasn’t snow, it wasn’t rain, it wasn’t a big accident that caused the standstill.  Instead, what forced miles of cars to stop driving were hundreds and hundreds of tumbleweeds.  Tumbleweeds.  Like in the western movies we grew up with.  Tumbleweeds are the last stage of the life cycle of plants commonly known as Russian thistle.  They spread by breaking off and bounding away, flinging seeds wherever the wind carries them.

This portion of the highway in Washington state is not foreign to tumbleweeds, but so many of these break-away skeletal plant spheres bouncing onto the highway at once was an odd occurrence.  According to the story by Jessica Leigh Hester, writing for Atlas Obscura, “The drivers braked, but the tumbleweeds kept coming, and they quickly blanketed the road and piled up between the cars. Within 30 minutes, vehicles were “completely encased,” … The tumbleweeds gathered along a strip of road roughly the length of three football fields, and some heaps reached 20 feet high, Thorson says, tall enough to swallow an 18-wheel semi truck.” As cars were covered, paint was scraped off their bodies and drivers were trapped inside their vehicles.  Even if they could open their doors to get out, they could not navigate the tumbleweeds without risking grave injury from the thorny and sharp weeds.  Eventually, snow plows arrived and workers cleared the highway of these pesky weeds, and everyone went along their way. [1]

I read this story a few weeks ago and the image of hundreds of tumbleweeds covering occupied vehicles, making it impossible for drivers to exit their cars or to even see beyond the weeds, has stuck with me.  These days, I often feel as if I am sitting alone in the midst of limited vision due to chaos outside, tumbleweeds bouncing around in the wind.  Along the road, a tumbleweed passes by and it might be a curious sight, but these days, it is as if these tumbleweeds just keep coming, one after another, until they’ve piled up and I am at a standstill.  Have you ever felt this way?  Like the world is offering one dead weed after another?  Like you’re sitting alone in a car unable to exit and unable to see the drivers in the other cars?  It could just be me, but whether you’ve felt this way or not, I think we can agree that there are an awful lot of tumbleweeds in our world, empty and useless circles of nothing clogging things up. 

While tumbleweeds blocked the highway, remember all of the nourishment and sustenance given to us, countering these distractions: living water, manna from heaven, the bread of life, loaves and fishes, wine from water, I could go on.  We need not get stuck in the distractions of what does not feed us.  We are gifted with a tradition and a religion that allows us to connect deeply to our sacred stories, stories that will create community and bring us to the other side of isolation.  Stories that will feed our souls.  Stories that will open wide our eyes so that we might see beyond the tumbleweeds.

Personally, I need these images of LIFE in my world.  I need to be reminded of the deep wells of nourishment within my reach, as close as my bible or my prayer to God.  Maybe you need to be reminded as well.  May your road be clear of tumbleweeds and filled with the life-giving and life-altering presence of the Living God, found in water, manna, bread.