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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

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Digging In


Over the course of a decade, you become intimate with the land you live on. It's the kind of physical familiarity you develop with your mate and your children, the cellular knowledge of their scent, their hair, the body's topography. Your hand wanders absently along the beloved's vertebrae, your fingertips small hounds on a knobby trail, stopping at the tailbone, muzzles pressed to the base of a tree. This place. I know this place.

I had that intimacy with the yard on Spruce Street. After ten years of gardening, raking, picking up toys, bringing out trash, letting out dogs, calling in kids, I knew every root and leaf, every shadow and season. It was weedy, as untidy as a little boy's unbrushed hair, but I loved it in detail and in particular. The scarlet of the Japanese maple at a certain hour, on a certain day in November, when the sun hit at a certain angle. The golden green of a patch of moss behind the spirea hedge in winter when the canes were laid bare. The exact weight of the back garden gate, laden under tentacled ivy.

I knew that place. It was home.

It's taking time to get to know this place. I haven't done anything with the garden yet. I thought I would watch it cycle through the seasons first. I guess I've been shy.

The kids aren't so hesitant. From the day we arrived here, they set out across the property like a small conquering tribe. They spent most of the summer spreading manifest destiny across the backyard. I got back there last week to do some long postponed fall clean-up, and I was staggered at their impact on the landscape, like reading statistics on how many tons of dirt earthworms can move. Literally, no stone was left unturned. As I dismantled rock cairns and stacks of deadwood that appeared to be constructed for trapping heffalumps and woozles, I rehearsed a lecture on respect for one's environment that would have been the equivalent of installing an electrified fence around the perimeter of the yard.

Then I softened, realizing they were doing what all animals do with their natural habitat: ordering it, owning it, digging in. We humans just do it on a grander scale than the others (except maybe the earthworms). Even the small ones among us. What looks destructive to me is reconstruction to them. I revised the lecture before delivering it. The relocation of the flower bed border stones has to stop, but I want them to keep digging in our little bit of earth, turning it over and shaping it as it shapes them. What gets planted in the holes they make is more important to me than perfect turf. As long as I don't fall in one.

Also, if they can move that many rocks and sticks, they can rake and bag leaves. Use your powers for good, I told them. I'll pay you five dollars.

Yesterday, late afternoon, I crossed the front lawn to bring the recycling to the curb. Coming back under one of the pecan trees, I automatically glanced down where I knew I would see the disc-shaped fungus clinging to the exposed roots like mollusks. It's one of the places I've come to know, a threshold into this new geography of ours.

I looked up as the lowering sun was streaming in through the forsythia hedge, and ran in the house to grab my camera the way I do when I want to capture the boys in a moment, the way I used to do when the Japanese maple on Spruce Street was in full flame. I stood there shooting a few minutes, tweaking settings on the camera until the display showed what I was seeing: something beloved, something known.

This place. My place. Home.



Blogger palinode said...

I agree.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Beautiful as always. It's difficult to comment on your posts because nothing I could say ever seems worthy.

I'm still getting to know our new land, as we only moved in 4 months ago, but it is ours and will be for the next decade or so. The fruit trees, and creek, and towering pines all contained on two acres are just waiting on the children to be of age to explore.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Jennifer H said...

Next house, I plan to do what you're doing, letting the seasons cycle through for a year. The surprise of what comes up in the spring, or blooms midsummer...I love the hope in that.

And I can't wait for my kids to have a better yard for digging than what we have now. I pretend not to know what creatures - less friendly than earthworms - live in the holes in our yard.

Gorgeous writing, as always...(sigh)

6:35 PM  
Blogger Busymomma66 said...


9:45 AM  
Blogger Loren Christie said...

Well-written. I really enjoyed reading this post.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Geoff Meeker said...

I soooo related to this. I could smell the autumn leaves, sense the wet knees of my pants, feel the spider webs that clung to my face.

It brought me back, to the yard of my childhood home on Spruce Avenue, where a large rock sat against the fence, apparently pushed there to make way for landscaping. Shaped like a pile of pancakes, with a bunch of ledges around the sides (giving purchase for toy soldiers) and a bonus ant nest underneath, it was the platform for a thousand childhood daydreams.

Just last year, my brother drove through the old neighbourhood. The house next door, with its apple trees and long grass, was gone, replaced by a connecting street to the subdivision that had sprouted behind it. And there, in the ditch next to the fence, was the rock – discarded, abandoned, despite its historical significance.

As soon as I could, I drove by the old house. I wanted to take that rock home in the trunk; give it a new home in the corner of my backyard. I knew it would be smaller than I remembered, and fairly easy to lift.

But the area had been landscaped and curbed, the ditch filled in, my rock buried. I briefly considered digging for it, but… how nuts would that be?

Thanks for a wonderful post, Kyran.

7:16 AM  

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