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Copyright © 2016 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2016.
to spray water down like applause
september 1, 2016
When Mary and I had our home built for us here in Texas back in 1991, wood frame and brick exterior rising from the ground, windows added, we had previously, as a couple, only lived in apartments and motels, and quite a few of them, from California to Maine to the Lonestar State, with stays in between in Alaska, Miami, Canada, New Mexico, and just about every other state except Hawaii.
Apartment living is often glamorous on TV and in movies, young lovers in their living rooms and kitchens, lots of product placement; old lovers heating coffee, tall bookcases in every room, overflow books stacked horizontally above the rows of vertical spines, spectacles stopping their slide at the bottoms of amused noses; but for us, it was awful. We never quite got the comfort of a world where the other side of the wall was other people, arguing, banging nails into walls, water vibrating through hidden pipes with who knows what.
Once we did move into our home (real estate agents are always careful to refer to the new domicile as 'the home', rather than 'the house', a concept rather than a structure), we were overjoyed. Us, alone. One of my happiest thoughts is how Mary woke up that first morning in our new home, after we had transferred into our rooms everything from that long red and white moving van backed up into our driveway, stacking stuff everywhere, creating cardboard mazes, exhausted. I was still in our bed, sleeping on my stomach (moving tip: Always set up your bed first), while Mary made coffee, that pungency that fills a kitchen, fills a pre-dawn morning, wandering around the white downstairs and upstairs rooms of our new home. I've often, often pictured Mary's happiness that morning as she walked from room to room, the coffee-sipping queen. I hope, I sincerely hope, at the time of my death I get to experience the look in her happy eyes. That would be nice.
We cared only for the interior of our home. Filled it with designer furniture, paintings, books, appliances, sculptures. Not for us, the front lawn, the backyard. We mowed, but with little enthusiasm. Glad to be finished, sweaty bodies bouncing back inside, to air-conditioning, showers, white towels, German beers. The builder had hauled trucks worth of fresh top soil, tilting it rumbling down into our backyard, but we never ever did anything with all that brown. Eventually, over the rest of the Summer, into the Fall, the Winter, the weeds rose. Who could blame their tall greenness, their seeded tops, given our neglect?
Ever notice how something seemingly random occurs in your life, but then some time later it blooms? Is that a ghostly finger, helping you as it points its knuckled transparency to different possibilities? I worked with an older woman who, learning that Mary and I had built a house, and liking us, one day brought into work a cardboard box filled with the stiff green shoots of about two dozen irises. She and her husband had dug up their own bed of irises, which you really should do every few years, to replant them, and these were the leftovers. I politely accepted the big box, looking down into its geometry at the cut-short green blades, the snaking beige roots, hairiness belled with tiny balls of dirt.
Planned on putting them out with the garbage, since we had no interest in gardening, but one Sunday in the Fall, while Mary was making an elaborate breakfast, which a Sunday breakfast should always be, it's a celebration, I decided to spend my waiting time planting the irises along the brick wall outside our living room. And it was so easy to do! The box of irises, an orange-handled trowel, my right elbow rising and lowering, a limp green hose dragged over afterwards to spray water down like applause, then back inside to dig down into the contrasting textures of Hollandaise, poached egg, thick ham slice, toasted English muffin.
Promptly forgot about what I had buried.
The next Spring, we went out into our backyard at one point, I no longer remember why, so much from the past can't be rehydrated, and there were those irises, risen up, tall, proud, large yellow flowers unfolded, and if you leaned your nostrils down, there was the faintest scent of vanilla. Both of us, stunned. By how beautiful they were. By how easy it was.
So we started gardening.
It took us years--years!--to tame our garden, to where we could finally reach down, pet its head. We had neglected it to the point where there were tall, tough weeds everywhere, the top soil had rained away, exposing the white, rocky clay of north Texas, so that our backyard looked like the cold, airless surface of the Moon.
And we fought against that, month by month, year by year, with shovels, sweat, potted nursery plants, cold beer.
It took us about five years to get our garden where we wanted.
Where there had been the white surface of the moon, now there rolled gentle green park paths winding around large beds filled with trees, bushes, flowers. Shade and red and pink geraniums, hillocks covered with wild thyme, tall cannas, Spring-blooming ground cover. A field of tulips, a stand of tall zinnias, their swaying heads touched by the landings of dozens of different butterflies. Hummingbirds zipping, hovering like helicopters, in the air above all this beauty. Visited by cardinals, raccoons, possums, snakes, rabbits, blue jays, lizards, road-runners, pheasant, turtles, neighborhood cats.
We had white plastic chairs at the rear of our property, where we could sit under the over-hanging trees after digging and pruning all day, enjoying a few cold bottles of Spaten Optimater, watching the world of our backyard. There's a great joy in seeing a cardinal sing from one end of the yard, then swim in the air, red wings tucked in, across the density of greenery to a branch fifty feet away, carrying a black sunflower seed to his intended mate. We always wished him luck.
The years rolled by, as they do.
As much joy as the garden gave us, and it truly did, a place where we could sit and talk about our plans for the future, once we had created our garden to what we saw as its perfection, gradually that activity became less about challenge and more about maintenance, and eventually, over the years, it was more pleasant for us to just stay inside our home, behind the windows, have those discussions in bed. Once a mountain summit is reached, there isn't the same urgency to climb back up the rocks to plant a second flag.
Our garden started to revert.
At first, we fought it.
Went out with the electric grass trimmer, put on yellow gloves and pulled up weeds.
But our hearts were no longer in it, so the garden gradually, over the years, slipped back, iceberg sliding left, into the cold ocean.
The weeds are always waiting. And the weeds came back.
After some more half-hearted efforts from us, baling out the boat, we finally decided, You know? Let it happen.
So now our backyard garden park is overrun with the wildness of native Texas weeds.
And to be quite frank?
We like the honesty of our back yard.
This is what Texas looks like.
We still go out there, to fill the bird feeders, spray water down into the bird baths.
Unseen animals plunge through the thickets away from our advancing sneakers. We're fine that we don't see them?
At this stage in our life, the green-pathed safety of our park is gone. We have lost control of our backyard. We are left with the wildness of weeds, and all they summon.
And one never knows what one will find around the next spindly green corner.