Monday, April 5, 2010

The Yard

When I first bought my house in the late '80s, the yard was a third-of-an-acre wasteland with poor drainage and three 30-foot Dutch elms tucked in the back.  When we first came to look, Mrs. Larsen, the owner, pointed sadly to a slight depression in the lawn and said, "That's where Charlie died, right there. Dropped like a stone..." Charlie had been her live-in boyfriend, struck down  by a massive coronary while digging a fencepost. My then-wife, a lovely Asian woman with Asian superstitions, luckily did not hear Mrs. Larsen tell of her paramour's last moments. Had she heard, we wouldn't have bought the house. Earlier in our search for a home, we couldn't buy a lovely Craftsman house on the other side of town because it was too close to a cemetery, and she refused to even consider any property that had weeping willows.

I tucked into the yard with a vengeance, moving azaleas, planting a wall of forsythia and ridding the front of a termite-eaten split rail fence. I re-graded for better drainage, dug out a small pond, created a vegetable garden behind the two-car garage. I planted bulbs and rose bushes as well as a bed of asparagus. I dug in potatoes, chased deer away, encouraged ladybugs and praying mantis. I hoed, sprayed, pruned, mowed, transplanted and fertilized. Once oin a great while, I harvested. Over time I put in flagstones around the pond, brought in three large rocks from a quarry to become the centerpiece of the yard, bought outdoor furniture and wired lighting.  In time, it became a lovely, haphazard place, a small piece of land with many colors and no rhyme or reason. Sometimes things died, other times unknown species bloomed at a frantic pace.

Over the winter, a series of fluke storms deposited almost five feet of snow on my Northern Virginia home, and the yard suffered greatly.  For decades, developers imported showy non-native species to the area—bamboo, mimosa, cherries, Bradford pears, chokeberries, Japanese honeysuckles, English ivy, eulalia—and many of these are not winter resistant. They bend, they break, they die.  I spent almost 12 hours pruning hedges that had buckled, tearing out split bamboo and clearing large branches that had broken off. I wasn’t alone. All through the neighborhood, I could see homeowners clearing debris, or work gangs of Latinos feeding wood to giant shredding machines.

Now we’re almost back to normal, though I have yet to repair the external pond filter that split when ice formed in it. The fish don’t seem to mind.  Next week will be the fish census, when a friend and I empty the pond and take stock of who’s in there and who’s not.  I’m hoping Pantagruel, my prize, 7-inch long not-quite-a-koy-yet goldfish made it. I’ve already noticed a couple of small, new occupants, including one adventurous black and gold guy with a black dot on top of his head. Life goes on.

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