Wild Thyme: Time On My Hands

September 13, Election Day? Well, it’s not the BIG election day coming up, only the Democratic primary for state senator, but I was at the polls, yes I was. I was there all day. Ten solid hours. No, I’m not a really slow voter, I’m a poll inspector. For a (very) small wage, I put up signs like Vote Here and No Smoking, check that voters are registered, and generally make sure our local elections run smoothly.

Not a hard task at this particular election. My colleagues and I (4 inspectors total, 2 Democrat, 2 Republican) sat and sat and sat and sat, killing time and waiting for customers. After about four hours we’ve had two voters, 50 per cent of whom were me.

So finally, a coffee break. I flee to the parking lot craving some excitement.

The election is held in the Town Hall. A hundred feet (we measure) from the door, we’ve put up a stern sign: No Electioneering Beyond This Point. I don’t know, maybe in November we’ll have mobs of cheering supporters, but during the primaries, all four of them, I’ve never seen a soul electioneering, whatever that may entail. Certainly no one’s electioneering out here today.

Just past the sign there’s a triangle of green in the middle of the parking lot, surrounding the flagpole. The grass smells good in the hot September sun–very good, in fact. There’s a pleasant humming of bees. Pretty little spangles of purple blossoms. I look closer, sniffing. The whole triangle isn’t grass after all, it’s a low-growing plant with tiny leaves. Wild thyme.

I bend lower (feels good after so much sitting) and sink my hands into the fragrant carpet. The mat of tiny leaves is so thick, my hands leave deep prints. A wonderful smell rises, of hot, dusty sunshine mingled with poultry seasoning. I could flavor a sea of soup or stuff a dozen turkeys with all this thyme on my hands.                                                                

Three more hours pass, three more voters. I meander back outside to check for electioneering in the parking lot. In the thyme triangle there are quick, small movements, and amid the leaves are tiny mountains of dirt grains. You can see how each grain of soil is balanced carefully. Ants scurry around the thyme jungle.

The soil here is packed clay, hard as a rock. A rotten spot for a garden, I can see why no one tried to plant petunias under this flagpole. But the thyme flourishes. That’s because wild thyme originally came from the hot, dry mountaintops of the world. In places like Africa, Crete, Italy, it grows on bare rock, simmering in the sun with that wonderful scent of good cooking. (Yes, you can use wild thyme just like you would the stuff from the grocery store.) The tiny leaves minimize moisture loss. Thyme can thrive in habitats you’d think of as deserts—like the sun-baked corner of a black-topped lot.

Thyme is perfect for the complicated art of xeriscaping—gardening with plants that grow in extremely dry conditions. But I don’t think anyone xeriscaped the Town Hall parking lot on purpose. The thyme crept in all on its own–a stray seed somehow landed on this uninviting spot, and germinated against all odds. The little wiry stems spread inch by inch, year by year, till the thyme all but eradicated the grass. Seems like a good trade–scraggly grass you have to mow for a carpet that smells like heaven. I make a mental note to try to get some thyme to grow in some of the barren corners of my yard.


Election Day finally over, ten hours, 15 voters. But my hands smell good all day.

About unmowed

I'm a writer and a botanist who loves the weirdly weedy places of the world.
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3 Responses to Wild Thyme: Time On My Hands

  1. George says:

    Wow. Your hand print in the wild thyme looks a lot like a racoon foot print. Neat.

  2. Jo Ann says:

    Thyme is one of my favorite fragrances – reminds me of Italian food, another one of my favorites!

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