Mulberries can be good food for thought.

Some people think I have a green thumb.

That’s true, at least when I’m wearing my gardening gloves. They’re green and keep my thumbs from truly turning green when I pull countless weeds every weekend.

Truth is, there’s only one thing that keeps me from looking like a successful gardener: a sign at the end of every row that says “weeds.” It’s said that a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place. My weeds would beg to differ. They’re right at home in my garden, and don’t doubt for a second that my weeds can argue. Big as they are, I’d put nothing past them. Technically, they’re known by names like crabgrass and purslane, though many are so massive I simply call them “Sir.”

I prefer purple thumbs, as mine are now as I type. That means I’ve been eating mulberries, which drip from a tree where my lawn drifts into timber. They stain not only my hands but my mind.

Plenty of food for thought grows for observant gardeners. Metaphors and symbols seem as abundant as the weeds, and I can’t look at my purple thumbs without thinking of freedom.

In developing nations around the world, voters’ fingers are marked by purple ink. It stains their forefingers for several days after they cast their ballots, mostly to prevent voter fraud.

Many voters, though, show off their stains with pride. It means they’ve voted, often for the first time, in countries with a history of elections that are neither free or fair.

My purple thumbs and forefingers hold far less significance. But the purple fingers of voters around the world should mean nothing less than the oval “I voted” stickers we’re offered whenever we leave the polls. These don’t stick with us quite as long as purple stains, but the symbolism should.

We’re entering the weedy patch of the political cycle. The November elections are 138 days away, and our TVs, mailboxes and phones will be overrun with ads and claims from politicians of every stripe. It’s easy enough to tune everything out, but also short-sighted.

It’s up to us to discern what’s fruit and what’s weeds. Plenty of plants were thought of as weeds until someone ate them for the first time. For example, I just discovered a cooking website that lists 45 things you can do with fresh purslane. Amazingly, tossing it in the ditch is not among them.

My wife feels the same way about mulberries (though we agree about blueberries). But what causes my stains draws her disdain.

As I ponder my purple thumbs, I can’t help but wonder what insights I might be tossing into the ditch — or the recycling box — as the midterm madness emerges. How we handle the tangle of information is essential to our future.

We humans are blessed not only with opposable thumbs but open minds. As a fresh crop of candidates sprouts new ideas and opinions, take time to mull them over.

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at

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