Tuesday, March 30, 2010


There's something about rainy spring mornings. This one is more mist than rain, a damp hazy curtain shrouding the trees and street, leaving behind just enough water to make car tires squish. The colors are vibrant against a soft gray sky. There’s a millions greens, a few yellows—jonquils and forsythia—and the colorless hues of last year’s flower stalks. The lawn is patchy, I never got around to raking the leaves in the fall, but I did repair the filter and pump in the small pond and this morning I glimpsed a flash of orange at the bottom. The goldfish survived the winter. With luck, if a great blue heron doesn’t spot them, if the raccoons don’t get too curious, the fish will turn into carps and grow to fit the size of their limited environment. But the cards are stacked against them. The larger they get, the more they are likely to become not just a tasty tidbit but a full meal for my yard’s predators.

The trunk of a dead tree—a weeping willow that capsized three years ago—spans a large part of my backyard. Last fall I tried to move it so I could mow and I disturbed a nest of mud daubers. A phalanx of them came after me, stung me a dozen times and chased me around the house as I searched frantically for an unlocked door. I tore my shirt off as I ran and later, when I retrieved it, found the carcasses of ten yellow and black wasps still enlaced in the fabric. Mud dauber attacks happen to me every second or third year.

I planted the willow tree some eighteen years ago following my mother’s death in Paris.. When my father passed away, I put in another willow, a corkscrew, and both trees became quiet monuments to my parents’ lives. When the original willow fell, it did so with great gentleness, harming neither other trees, nor the garage or house. I took that to mean something—my mother’s last gift to me, perhaps—and left it lying there. For one summer it kept sprouting vertical branches and I hoped that it might regenerate, but it didn’t. When Florence, my outrageous older sister, succumbed to cancer in Paris, I planted three crepe myrtles next to the pond. Last year, as close friends departed, I added two more bushes, a lilac and a redbud.

The winter was brutal. My area had more snow than far more northern climes, and the temperate vegetation we have here suffered greatly. Cedars split, boxwoods were flattened, bamboo bent to the ground and cracked. One pine tree died, and a Dutch elm far in the back lost a major branch. For awhile, I was concerned that my roof might collapse. The architecture here is not designed to withstand the great weight of four feet of snow, but the roof held though at times it moaned like a mortally wounded man.

It’s been raining all day. The overweight raccoon whose family nightly raids my trashcan was soaked, the birds are hidden in the branches of the blue spruce, and my cat is reluctant to face the outdoors. I can hear the wet whooshing of traffic on the nearby Dulles Access Road. One blessing: the construction crews who are hammering a new subway line have not manned their pile-drivers today, so there was, if not silence, at least an absence of the rhythmic construction booming that gives me a headache.

I’ve had a day largely by myself save for lunch with friends, and I’ve come to appreciate such spans of time. Today, it’s not loneliness, it’s solitude.

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