Thursday, July 14, 2016
The Back Yard
I have a backyard, the standard amount of property behind most Northern Virginia houses built in the 60s. Originally, it was roughly a quarter acre, but a few years back when the county was ridding itself of surplus land, I bought an additional abutting 7000 square feet which to this day remain untouched. It’s a haven for bamboo, poison ivy, raccoons, fox, deer, and blacksnakes that make their home in a culvert adjoining the land. When little kids lived in my house, I would tell them buffaloes roamed back there, and a few of them led research expeditions into this suburban wilderness, once returning with the jawbone of a deer. I opined it was from a dwarf bison and so that place, for a few years, was called Buffalo Hill though it is flat and bovine-free.
It’s likely that when I eventually need to sell my house, it will be to a developer who will level the entire Sagnier realm to its red-dirt basics. In the meantime, though, there’s green and brown and water and animals. I saw coyote on my property recently and suspect these have found my extended backyard good pickings.
The summer after I bought the house, I dug in a small fishpond with a plastic waterfall and stocked it at first with expensive koi. It took me only a few months to realize koi are extraordinarily dumb and will rise to the surface, hoping for food, when another species approaches their habitat. Because of this lack of survival skills, the fish fairly swam into the claws of hungry raccoons that devoured them almost entirely, leaving only sad and mutilated little heads with astonished lidless eyes. Now I stock the pond with cheap goldfish from Petco, but even they can be prey to great blue herons who view my pond as a sushi bar.
Many years ago, when I mother died, I bought a weeping willow and planted it in my backyard to honor her memory. This became a tradition, the purchase and planting of green things in remembrance of loved people who have moved on. The weeping willow was followed by a corkscrew willow for my dad. I suspect he, an agnostic, would have been amused that the tree, now some twenty feet tall, is also called a devil’s walking stick. A decade ago when my oldest sister, Florence, died of bladder cancer, I bought an assortment of crepe myrtles that bloomed in what I was told were her favorite colors. They’re flamboyant plants, much as Florence was, and every year when they flower, I sit under the branches and remember my sister’s laughter.
The weeping willow I’d planted for my mother came crashing down one spring afternoon in the late 90s. There was no reason for its demise; it should have lived another decade but simply did not. I trimmed the branches and left the trunk lying across the grass for a few years, and it became the home of burrowing insects and at least three chipmunks who liked salted peanuts.
To replace my mother’s tree, I put in a bat house, a choice she would have reviled. I’ll explain—when we first came to America, a bat did enter our home through an open window. My mother, a painter, was at the time putting the finishing touches on a work she hoped to exhibit. The bat flittered through the room making odd squeaking noises and my mother, terrified by the prospect of the small thing lodging in her hair as bats are mistakenly reputed to do, protected herself by sticking a palette full of oil paints on her head with expected results. This was one of those events that would forever influence her occasionally judgmental opinion of her adopted country.
My backyard is a museum of emotions, both joyous and not. Recently, my very good friend Anne passed away. Anne was a great lady in the old tradition, and I’ve decided that though she was not family, she deserves a tree.
I don’t know what I’ll get. Funds are limited, but memories are not, so I’ll find something appropriate for a grande dame from another time. My back yard tradition will continue, at least for a little while, and to me, that’s significant.