Monday, May 19, 2014

The Boneyard

     I just returned from visiting my parents in Richmond.  As we walked around the neighborhood, I gawked at the stunning floral displays in every yard.  Richmonders, at least the ones where I grew up, take pride in manicured lawns and dazzling displays of flowers.  The azaleas were in full bloom and every sidewalk was lined with mulched beds of impatiens, roses, pansies, petunias, salvias and sages:  all of it weeded and trimmed to perfection.
     I came home and took a long look at my front yard.  I love flowers just as much as my city friends, but somehow my efforts never translate into the riotous beds of blooms that they’ve achieved.  For one thing, I have walnut trees.  My walnut trees whisper softly in every summer breeze and host orioles and other small birds who wake me with joyful song.  The trees shade my hammock with their gnarly arms and leave only a small trace of leaves for me to rake up in the fall.  They even provide nuts for cakes and pies.  But, walnuts hate to share the lawn.  They nourish grass, but kill almost every flower or tree that is planted beneath their widespread crowns.  And so, I’ve reduced my flower beds to the few plants that can tolerate the walnut’s acidic roots: daylilies, coneflowers, hostas, bleeding hearts and sedums. 
     Then there’s my dog, Luke.  He loves the lawn and flower beds even more than I do.  He loves them because they provide great places to stash all of his bones.  He refuses to limit his collection to the few bones I toss out after a steak or pork dinner.  Luke is a hoarder.  He travels great distances to find and bring back bones of all descriptions.  I cannot fathom where he gets them all.  I recently removed two deer skulls, five assorted bovine bones, a set of sheep ribs, and various legs with hooves and hair still attached.
      If Joe or one of the boys shoots a ground hog out in the front meadows, Luke lets it age for several days and then drags it into the yard.  Usually I find these offerings before they become overwhelmingly offensive, but on occasion if I’m preoccupied as I mow, I have been awakened from my daydreams by a grinding noise and a fan of ripe guts and flesh spewing out from under my feet.  Luke leaps for joy every time I make this mistake, chasing down the body parts and rolling ecstatically in the macerated mess.
     If I have discovered the rotting body and carried it far away from the house, Luke brings it back and buries it in the flower beds for further aging.  Last week, I was planting some hostas when I noticed a  small mound of mulch in the back of the bed.  I reached out with my ungloved hand to smooth it down and raked my fingers through slimy gore.  Luke seemed puzzled by my strong reaction to his gift.  The smell lingered on my hands for several days.
     Then there are the livestock grazing around the house.  Last year, my daylilies were radiant against my white board fence until the lambs reached through and ate the flowers.  The horses love the rosebushes and the cows love anything they can get to.  My sister still chuckles at her memory of being awakened one morning by an unearthly shrieking.  Thinking the house was on fire, she jumped from her bed and caught a flash of blue wailing around the house.  It was me, in my nightie and muck boots, hurtling after five cows and screaming bloody murder.  They had managed to push open a gate and spent the early morning hours destroying my vegetable garden. Even the chickens have found ways into the yard, digging holes beneath the chicken wire I stapled up to thwart them.  They prefer a dust bath shaded by hostas.
     So, while I enjoy the cultivated perfection blooming in the suburbs, I gave up my dreams of garden glory years ago.  Now, I plant daffodils on the hills surrounding my house and enjoy the wild Joe Pye and Iron Weed blooms in the meadow.  I pick daisies from the shale banks and Queen Anne’s Lace to decorate my tables.  
     Joe has decided he would like a flower bed in the yard this year.  He’s made plans for a raised bed full of zinnias and dahlias, delphiniums and larkspur.  I am all for it.  I’m anticipating some early morning entertainment when Joe wakes and discovers the cows dining on dahlias.  I wonder if he’ll stop to put on his boots.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Riding in Trucks

     When my boys were born I realized how different males were from females when they were about two years old and started making engine sounds.  They made engine sounds for everything.  Eating?  Sound of cars pushing food around their plates.  Bathing?  Sound of motor boats as they slid their hands through the suds.  Walking?  Sounds of trucks as they trotted up and down the grocery store aisles.  Sleeping?  No sounds, but that was the only time. 
     I bought a couple of well-seasoned horses when the boys were in school.  I figured we could ride together and bond.  The boys never really grew fond of trotting or cantering, but if Joe brought out the four-wheeler or offered them the chance to steer the truck in the field, they were all over it.  As Justin once said, “Mom, you never know what a horse is going to do, but a four-wheeler won’t dump you off.”
     I beg to differ.   I have been dumped by a lawn mower. A horse wants to stay upright as much as I do, but a lawn mower doesn’t care.  That’s why, when I drive one on the side of a ten degree slope, I lean as far uphill as possible.  This used to keep my mower under control until Joe got me one that cuts off if you lift up off of the seat.  Now, the mower stops running whenever I shift my weight, so I’m forced to white knuckle it around the berm of my garden.
     I once dated a fellow who loved souped up trucks.  He especially loved bucking them across vertical slopes covered in rocks and mud.  He invited me to go along for a ride, once.  While he was chortling gleefully about the mud spinning out from under our tires and the cow-sized rock we’d just  climbed, I was hanging on for dear life saying things like, “Are you sure we should go that way?” and “Look there’s a road. How about we drive on that for a while?”   
     When I married Joe, I never guessed that he would expose me regularly to motor-induced hazards.  For example, feeding hay in the winter involved putting the truck in low range and spinning up across snow that had drifted like ocean swells on the hills.  We’d be going along in a comfortable, horizontal track and he would suddenly point the nose of the truck uphill and start digging a path to the top.  The whine of the truck and his wife would grow louder as he tried to top the rise, and I tried to get him to turn around and just forget about feeding the cows up there.  I have found it comforting to close my eyes when we are exposed to motor-induced dangers.  What I can’t see can’t kill me.
     Then, one day Joe offered me the chance to go along with him and spread some lime.  He made it sound like I would enjoy the beauty of the view from the top of the ridge, but I knew he really just wanted the services of Gate Girl.  However, I did want to see some of the vistas he was always telling me about. I probably would have enjoyed the scenery if I had ever opened my eyes.

     Yesterday, after cleaning out the chicken house, I asked Joe to help me spread some of the litter and manure.  I had put as much in my compost pile as I wanted, and I figured the rest would help grow some grass somewhere.  He agreed and when we got halfway down the driveway, Joe put the truck in low range.  I knew enough by now to look at him suspiciously.  “Where are we going to spread this?” I asked.  In answer, he turned the truck towards the tallest hill.  “It will do the most good here,” he replied.  It’s been raining a lot lately and soon one of my worst nightmares began to take shape.  We hung up in foot thick mud on the side of the ridge.  “Now, we’ll see what this baby can do,” Joe laughed.  “This baby is going to hit you if you don’t let me out,” I replied, but by that time, we had managed to spin our way through the muck to solid ground.  
     We rode up the hill the rest of the way in silence.  My eyes were closed and I was too busy praying for angels to push us up to the top, to engage in frivolous conversation.  After Joe and I forked the last bit of manure off onto the shaley ground, Joe climbed back into the truck.  I walked down.  After years of riding along with him, I knew Joe would bring the truck off of the hill safely.  But, he could concentrate better if I wasn’t screaming all the way down.