Spring Break

Last year over spring break I loaded up my canoe and headed for Columbia. It was a trip I’ll never forget. We spent five nights on the river. I really felt like Huck Finn setting out for the territories. This year I’m catching up on all the yard work I’ve put off. I’ve discovered that our low-maintenance yard becomes high-maintenance if I don’t do any at all.

So yesterday I launched spring holidays 2007 by weeding the gravel we used to replace the grass we didn’t want to cut. It’s labor intense, but rewarding. I wiggle a strange U-shaped hoe back and forth under the weeds until they break loose. Then I rake this green invasion into a pile. When it’s all said and done I still like the gravel better than a lawn, but I no longer believe the gravel is less work.

Then I faced the fact that the wildflower bed we planted three years ago over our septic field has to be reseeded and the grass needs to be removed. If I leave it alone it will quickly become what it really wants to be: an old field in succession. If I simply mow it then it will become what I don’t want it to be-a lawn.

After that, I worked on the little series of garden ponds I’ve stocked with local bream and bass. A year’s detritus was two inches deep on the bottoms, and I squatted on the edges and pulled out handful after handful of black, decomposing oak leaves. If I left them, after three or four years I’d have a series of bogs instead of ponds. Even something as simple as a small pond needs my help to stay what it is.

I think it’s called the Second Law of Suburban Dynamics: without maintenance everything becomes something else. Gravel becomes lawn. Pond becomes bog. What is it with nature? Nothing stays what it is. Everything becomes something else over time.

So I looked around some more. This was just the first day of spring break. Should I weed the herb garden? (Herb garden becomes weed patch.) Should I replace the potted plants on the front porch? (Plant containers become catch basin for weed seeds.) Should I scrub the green sheen off the north-facing front porch that never gets any sun?

Should I spray the yellow pollen off the decks and walks? Betsy’s nose tells her the pollen count in our yard this year might be approaching saturation. It’s pretty nice living in a temperate zone, but treeless Arizona looks pretty good every year about this time when her allergies kick in. Leave the pollen on all the surfaces and it looks like we’ve had a yellow snow fall. Can’t nature find a neater way to make more trees?

I looked around again. The leaves I didn’t move last fall need removal from the beds so I can add this year’s pine bark mulch. I pulled the blower out of the basement and plugged it in. I remembered that my friend Byron says blowing leaves is in his top ten all-time favorite activities. He says when he retires he might just spend hours blowing leaves back and forth across his yard.

I haven’t had enough practice with a leaf blower to really know how to use it with skill and accuracy, so I spend most of my time blowing them back from where they came. I’ve thought about asking Byron over for a beer and getting him to teach a quick workshop in the front yard-Leaf-blowing 101. I could set up my own little yard work college of continuing education.

But maybe it’s not my technique. Maybe it’s the terrain. We don’t have those vast expanses of suburban lawn where you can really get rafts of leaves moving across empty space. Trees, bushes, and rocks block the way every time I think I’ve got a good blow going.

Then I remember, it’s spring break. I’ve got all week to work on stopping the yard entropy. Maybe when Byron comes over we’ll just sit on the deck and drink that beer and discuss the philosophical implications of forested lots and leaf-blowing, or whether yard work could be considered a religion, or if there is much chance a great literature will rise from these suburban meditations.

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