I loved the rain last night. Last week, in a bow to reality, I reclaimed my gardens and made them into yard. Four of my kids got poison ivy in the process and I (and more “they”) got an extra ten feet of width to add to the soccer field–for really that is about the only purpose they use the backyard: hours long games of World Cup, one on one, two on two, one on three and every other permutation possible given however many kids happen to be around.
After fifteen summers of tilling, planting weeding, and fertilizing in my gardens, I realized that I did precious little harvesting, for I am rarely home in the summer, while the rest of the family is never home–at least for the two months we spend working and going to the camp up at Windsor Mountain in New Hampshire. At the end of the summer I am left with a massive bed of weeds, brambles, and the tenacious will of my neighbor’s black cherries to invade my yard, and that is what ten hours with my tiller, hoe and rake have cured. I take a bit of pride in how well I can rake smooth a bed of loam, a practice honed in years of landscaping, farming, and gardening. I get into a zen-like zone as I search for the perfect level–but only as perfect as need be. I am not working with screened loam, so I don’t stress about every little root or stone that sticks through the soil: I simply want to grow grass, and I know it will grow well in the space I made. The soil is rich and the sun is strong.
The only problem this week has been water. As luck would have it, the big heat wave of the summer came and had me stretching a 150 foot house around the yard to keep the seeds moist–for that is all the seed really needs: a gentle bath for about ten days, not a deep soaking, but a constant tending–much like a child, but this week at least several times each day. Once the roots are in, then I let nature rule the earth and by hook or crook a decent lawn grows, and though you would probably need a PhD in botany to identify the diversity of grass and weeds in my yard, the end result is a pretty tough field in which I enjoy watching my kids grow more so than the grass.
Yesterday, Charlie was looking particularly bored, so I told him to invite a friend of his over from Concord, the rich sibling of our town of Maynard. We arranged for pickups and such and later on Charlie observed how beautiful his friend’s yard was–and it is beautiful, like a glamour magazine cover–but then he also noted in his malleable innocence that he had never “played” with his friend in that yard. As we drove away past the maze of estate, through a flotilla of landscaping services, I appreciated the rugged utility of our yard, even more so, the rugged utility of our life here.
As the school year starts, our bank account is precariously low, two engine lights are on, the porch roof is leaking, the backdoor sill needs to be replaced, and the chimney needs to be relined before I can install the wood stove, and six of my seven seem to need a new pair of something that we always seem to find second-hand, but still, I am as “happy” as a man can be, and they, too, seem as happy as kids can be–and I know now from watching Kaleigh graduate from college, find a job, and settle in to her own life without asking for a bit of help that she is as rugged as our backyard and that this life worked for her and because of her. What she didn’t get, she got. She tends to her life the same way as I needed to do with the lawn by simply focusing on what is essential, to do what needs to be done and then to embrace whatever grows from it. It is a mix of stoic wisdom, permeating love and boundless persistence from which we all can learn.
So today I do not need to play rainmaker. The skies did that for me, but still I will head out back to peer into that dark soil and see if my seeds are starting to sprout and pray and trust that this small metaphor is real and true.