Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Monday, October 17, 2005

This House Is Home 6


It started harmlessly: I plugged in the mower a friend had donated to the cause and trimmed the surprisingly long grass in my postage stamp of a backyard, after first digging out of the grass a disheartening amount of broken glass and assorted debris.

Nearest the house, the yard consisted all but exclusively of weeds in all their adaptive glory. Cobbles and unsounded pits deterred me from mowing there, and so as I coiled the extension cord and stashed the mower I eyed suspiciously the low tangle of tenacious undergrowth at the edge of the lawn.

Still, though, today wasn't about perfection. I am still performing home maintenance strictly in gross, noting smaller, more intensive projects for later attention as I move from the cutting of one broad swath to the next.

The grass had clumped; using a holdover rake found leaning against the house (and mine mine mine due to the familiar childhood principle of "electricity!"), I managed to cover about a quarter of the yard before the rake snapped off with the laconic crack of rotten wood.

By hand, I bagged the biggest remaining clumps and tried not to dwell. My lawn won't be winning any prizes this year. Or, I imagine, ever.

To finish, I found a second-hand broom black of bristle on my side porch, suitable at least for clearing the clippings from the concrete walk that tracks obliquely from back porch to the alley gate at the far end of the yard.

Then I noticed the degree to which weeds had burst through the walk's expansion joints and crawled over the edge onto the walk like bathers rolling out of a pool.

When I began uprooting the weeds from the walk, I was lost, uncharacteristically indifferent to dirt and bugs, removing my right-hand work glove to free my fingers to exhume more effectively the root systems and soil.

When the walk was cleared, however, came the thicket at the foot of the yard and the ornate cobblestones at its fringe, suggested rather than visible by a hint of orthogonality under years of undisturbed weeds and matted grass.

An hour later, fingers filthy and sore and back stiff from stooping (the first sign of my advancing age to visit regularly), the area had been reduced chiefly to naked soil, the cobbles exposed and becoming, and a thirty-gallon bag full of weeds and soil.

It was the fingers in the dirt, my unflinching indifference to the scatter of displaced potato bugs and beetles, that revealed another aspect of the transformative power of proprietorship. Until today, I hadn't mowed a lawn in over ten years (and then begrudgingly), hadn't weeded, like, ever, and hadn't cared for soil and aeration and the purity of its stock ever. And yet I delayed dinner, used up every available moment, in lingering in the garden, fingers submerged to the first knuckle in the aromatic loam of my newly weeded yard.

Again, my mind wandered to the things I can do to this house. I smiled. I care, and that's the greatest transformation of all.


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