OK, first, I suppose I should apologize for the cheesy title above, but the truth is I’ve always been a sucker for puns, good or bad, and I know there are those out there who feel there are no good ones and see them as language’s playground for the simpleminded.
Well, call me simple if you must because I’ll always chortle whenever I think of the first lesson Santa taught his little helpers (“the elf-abet”). And, I’ll always guffaw when I think of the hardheaded toller who, in medieval times, used to mark the hours by striking the bell with his noggin, that is, until the day he slipped and tragically fell to his death. When the crowd gathered around the recently deceased below the campanile, someone asked if anyone knew the man’s name. And, of course, another delivered the pun (“don’t recollect his name, but his face rings a bell”), and that’s the direction my idea of humor often takes.
OK, enough of that linguistic baseness, and on to my topic today, one that’s on most homeowners’ minds each May. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen several of my regulars at the Knights of Columbus dragging themselves up to the bar searching for a little libation and sustenance, moving as if they’re coming back from the wars. They are the victims of all that stooping to plant and to weed and that spreading of all those decaying leaves and bark, euphemistically known as mulch.
Whenever I think about all this yard-related work we do every spring and into the summer, especially the raking, edging and mulching, I have to think about what our pioneer forefathers and foremothers must be thinking as they part the clouds and look down at our landscaping scurries, doing a variety of tasks that, not once, would they have ever thought to do during their times flush with pragmatism and light on aesthetics.
Imagine the look on the face of Charles Ingalls had wife Caroline asked him one day, “Charles, when will you be raking leaves?” Or, had Charles’ daughter Laura, his beloved half-pint, asked him, “Daddy, will you be mulching this spring?”
My guess is, to Charles, what fit his paradigm of what constituted beauty was a neatly arranged and bountiful woodpile and a new fence with posts dug deeply enough to stand sentinel-tall when the winds came sweeping across the plains.
But, my, what would have once been thought to be an exercise in superfluity has certainly become, for many in these times, an imperative as they strive to improve the appearance of their real-estate postage stamps of turf and, of course, in their efforts to keep up with all those Joneses who are doing the same.
As for all this outdoor toil, my own paradigm has shifted over time. While I continue to prioritize mowing as a serious concern and feel, had Mr. Ingalls had the technology, he’d have fired up the old Briggs and Stratton and cut a few swaths and then continued after he saw the nice straight wheel marks as he made each pass, for me, the rest of the springtime landscaping ritual has certainly been truncated.
As for planting, thanks to a country-girl trick, courtesy of my Lady Jane, saving the spent blooms of my marigolds in the fall and zip-locking them and then replanting the seeds the following spring in my half barrel and along the walk, which is about all the flora I can tolerate, takes care of the flower business. I’ve got sprouts already, and so in a few weeks, those big orange buds will burst forth yet again, thus saving me a trip to the garden center to buy someone else’s buds.
As for the mulch, the key word in my Shakespearean homage, there was a time when I fell, year after year, for fulfilling the ritual. I’ve picked those unwieldy bags up, tested my digital strength in tearing them open, and taxed my sacroiliac in disseminating all that decomposition, that is, before this spring’s epiphany.
In the far recesses of my mind, I brought up images of several vacation trips to Hilton Head and recalled seeing landscapers use blowers and rakes to reposition what is already on the ground — pine straw and cones, twigs, and leaves — into beds and around trees. And, you know what? It looked just fine and, indeed, did enhance the appearance of an area that takes a landscaping backseat to no other when it comes to beauty.
So, this year, the pine cones that fall so abundantly from the massive pine in the backyard, now 20 feet higher than my two-story house, the one I call Katie’s tree ever since my younger darlin’ brought it home from St. Charles in the second grade as a Dixie Cup seedling, get tossed in the beds surrounding the house.
The same goes for all those twigs that have loosened themselves during all our inordinately windy days. And, the same goes for all those brown beardlike “squigglies” that have rained down from my oaks these past several days, ones I can rake up and crumble so easily in the beds between my gloved hands.
And, as for me, conjuring up that “Little House on the Prairie” spirit, while at the same time recalling one of the favorite expressions of my old Parks and Recreations pal, John Smith, that’s good enough for the girls I date. No offense intended, Jane!
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.