Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fundamentally at Odds with the Natural World

In 2005 Jeff and I lived north of Chelsea on North Territorial Road.  We renovated the inside of a split level ranch house in '02-'03.  We were nesting.  However, the surrounding neighborhood was in less of a Ward and June Cleaver kind of state. Let's say it was transitional.  Across the street from us was basically a crack house in which things of unmentionable moral turpitude occurred.  There were dogs chained to heavy objects and blue tarps over their dirty kennels.  There were many cars of dubious origins.  It was, in short, hillbilly hell.

To the west of us were situated two rental houses with a constant stream of tenants whose belongings often ended up remaining--in the yard--long after they themselves had relocated.  On the east side of our property was a cute little custom boat shop, car repair place and a daycare center.  Those buildings were all meticulously maintained but still, less residential than the average buyer looks for.  This seemed unfortunate to me.  Because I had the best relationships with the those neighbors. They looked after my house when I was on vacation.  When we had renters for a brief time, they were the neighbors who were out in the backyard counting the 31 beer bottles and cans left behind by a late night gathering.  I had 4 phone calls about that party by 9am the next morning.  So it was that kind of neighborhood. Lots of Gladys Kravitzes--only nicer.

The other redeeming light was across the street. The North Lake United Methodist Church complete with the little red swooshy thing that Methodists are famous for--and a steeple.  The church was completed sometime in the early 1850's and its cuteness almost uplifted every other eyesore on that stretch of road.  Almost.

Despite the esthetic limitations of the immediate surroundings,  I nested.  And nested. For the better part of 3 years. To no avail. There were 4 or 5 miscarriages during that time. I lost count.  So the nesting was a hurky jerky affair interspersed with deep mourning and giddy anticipation.  To be honest, the giddiness fades after the second time.  But I wanted to be fair and give the little guys some hope to hold on to.  So I pretended to be giddy.  Anyway, the nesting began inside the house. When I'd done what I could inside both metaphorically and literally,  I turned my attention to the yard.  Well, if you know me, you know I like to get to know people.  I don't just want to say hi.  I think the clinical term for that is 'chatty.'  I was on a first name basis with the entire Gee family. Gee Farms is a large nursery compound kind of between Stockbridge, Jackson and Lansing.  I bought a lot of trees.  Some of which actually survived.

Then in the summer of that year, when I was 40, I stopped thinking about planting trees and started thinking about planting roses--and adopting.  The two seemed related somehow.

Why adoption got confused with roses in my head, I'll never know.  Anyway, I started buying rose bushes--a lot of them.  I would bring them home and put them in this nice high sandy area adjacent to the extra parking spot that I built myself-with 5 yards of 21AA and a shovel and Jeff's old truck.  I had a lot of angst and steam I needed to let go of, I guess. 

There were several different varieties of peach colored and deep orange roses. I bought large-flowered long stem types mostly.  They were coming along so nicely in that soil.  It was the one patch on that whole 1/2 acre parcel that could actually grow something--and boy was it ever fertile.  I just kept thinking, I wonder what the hell those people buried under there. I'm sure I didn't really want to know.  It grew nice rose bushes. That's all that mattered. What's dead is dead, I thought. Thanks for the phosphorous.  Sometime in mid to late July, the buds started looking plumper and plumper. They looked like they were just about ready to pop.  I was so excited. I went to bed one Monday night so excited I could barely sleep. I knew the next morning the budding would begin in earnest.

At first light, I bolted out of bed.  I went downstairs and brewed up some espresso in my Alessi stove top coffee maker with the melted blue plastic handle I ruined while camping. That thing made the most wicked coffee, I couldn't bear to part with it even in its scorched and misshapen state.  I steamed my milk, mixed up my brew and sneaked outside to have a peek.

There I stood in my pj-s and cowboy boots at 6am staring in horror at a swarm of Japanese beetles making love on and eating my precious rose buds before they even had had a chance to open.   I began to weep.  And scream at them.  And rant, and swat, and swear and weep some more.  I got bit or stung, I don't know which, more than a few times, as I unceremoniously crushed some of the little bastards.  I mean they decimated the entire patch of 25 bushes.  Leaves, buds, hell, they may have even been eating some of the thorns.  At first I looked at the buds which seemed in tact until I got right up on them. Then I realized that what seemed like a bud was really the leafy wrapper in its unopened state with a swarm of beetles inside it,  munching away.

For about an hour, I mumbled to myself and removed beetles.  I even went in the house and mixed up the following concoction -- a recipe I'd found on some website:  Water, some, dish soap, hot pepper, lemon juice, Tabasco and a bit of vinegar.

Well you'd have thought they were at Ruby Tuesday.  They seemed to eat through the natural bug repellant with renewed vigor. So by this point it's about 7:30am and I never smoked before noon. Never.  Had a hard and fast rule.  People who smoked before noon were real smokers. I was just pretending.  But damn if I wasn't out there in the rain, because at this point it had started to drizzle, smoking.  In my pajamas, with a spray bottle in one hand, an umbrella and a cigarette in the other and screaming at those damnable little bastards.  Swatting, yelling, crying, smoking, mumbling to myself, spraying.  Of course.

So about that Adoption.  We're not quite sure Mrs. Mason is an, um shall we say,  fit candidate for that.  Good thing nobody had a security camera on me.  Thank God for those few awesome neighbors of mine.  Just like Colonel Klink, they saw nuh-ssing.

By this time, the morning commute had begun and we lived on a busy stretch of North Territorial.  I knew many of the people driving by.  Many of them honked that morning, in fact,  because I'm sure I was quite a sight to behold.  Think a cross between these two photos:
Carl Spackler from Caddy Shack
Molly Mason from Chelsea

But with no smiles.  At all. Add an umbrella,  an American Spirit, bulging veins at my temples and a spray bottle instead of a hose.   Think Bill Murray in Caddy Shack. Trying to kill the gophers.  Mumbling to himself.

A few years ago I saw the movie "Failure to Launch."  This was an exchange between the two lead characters which I think really sums up how I felt that morning:

Demo: [to Tripp] You were bitten by a chuckwalla. That shouldn't have happened. It's a reptile of peace. I have a theory. This isn't the first time that nature's lashed out at you like this. I believe it's because your life is fundamentally at odds with the natural world.
Tripp: Huh?
Demo: Therefore, nature rejects you.

Therefore, nature rejects you.

I thought to myself, well, Mother Nature, (if that's your real name) you might have some dominion...but I'll be back.  

I stopped gardening that summer--but not forever.

And for a couple of really good reasons.
(To be continued)


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