Occupation and preoccupation have conspired of late to keep me from the soil. A couple of years ago, during a period of heightened work activity, we hired a small business owner to tend our lawn. His team handles the mowing, trimming and edging of the yard. With only a couple of exceptions for planting in the front flower bed, the front and back gardens of our house have received no attention from anyone but this team of hired landscape workers since that time. I have lost touch with the soil, with the planet. I pretend not to notice the weeds. One has to make choices in life, and I have chosen to sacrifice my casual love affair with dirt for the time to focus on other equally unimportant pursuits.
Recently, however, the state of affairs of my front flower bed reached such a level of entropy that intervention was required. So, with more than a few tingles of nostalgic excitement, I retrieved my gardening trowel and weeding fork and hand clippers and leather gloves and wheelbarrow and set to work on the bed. I had a couple of objectives in mind. First and foremost, I knew that I would be removing the overgrown weeds and the invading Bermuda grass. Also I needed to inspect, up close, the state of the perennials. Some would need trimming and pruning. Some would have to go altogether.
Starting with the verbena, I saw immediately that it was suffering from neglect. Although the top was green and blooming with little purple flowers, the bottom was bushy with dry, stiff branches because it had not been trimmed properly in the Autumn. In the end, I couldn't save it.
"The butterflies like that one."
The voice, though familiar, was right beside my ear. It scared the hell out of me. I jumped and jerked and accidentally threw my hand clippers into the prickly hedge. They broke through the outer foliage and disappeared into the bush.
Breathing deeply to settle my heart, I turned to see him sitting, bootless, in the bed beside the hopeless rosebush.
"Hello," I said, smiling. "I'm sorry I haven't been out here for quite some time. It's good to see you."
"In this time of the season the blooms on that are very sweet to them. Why are you cutting it down?"
"Well,..." I wasn't sure how to respond. "It's got these dead branches underneath because I didn't trim it in the Autumn. I can't seem to trim them without ruining the shape of the whole thing."
"That kind blooms for a few seasons, building up the dead branches on the bottom. Eventually they die. This one was young, still had several seasons in it."
"Well, if I had trimmed it then it wouldn't have those dead branches. It would be prettier."
But he wasn't listening to me. He had risen to his feet and approached the bush where I'd lost my clippers. It towered almost a foot over his head.
"Very prickly, these," he said.
"They prefer to be left alone."
He didn't answer. He was mumbling under his breath, making little rumbling noises in his throat. After a minute or two of this he stopped and just stood staring at the bush. Several seconds later the bush seemed to rattle and shake a little. He cocked his head slightly as though trying to hear.
"It thinks you're going to cut it with that thing you threw at it. It doesn't want to give the thing back to you."
"Are you going to cut it?" he asked, turning away from the bush to look at me.
"Well, I was going to trim it, yes. I mean, it needs a trim on top." I nodded to the new growth sticking out here and there.
"Well, then it's not going to give back your thing."
I wasn't sure how to respond. "I can just reach in and get the clippers," I said.
"I wouldn't." He sat back down beside the crooked rosebush as though the matter was quite settled.
So, I decided to let it go. "And what have you been up to, Chuck?" I asked.
"I spent the last month arguing with the rock troll," he said.
"What rock troll?"
"The one by the creek."
"Oh, right. That one. What were you arguing about?"
"The name of the creek." He did that little thing he does with his hand and his pipe appeared, already lit and smoking. He took it between his lips and drew in.
"What is the name of the creek?"
"We cannot agree," he said. "So we've decided to take a break and discuss it some more soon."
We talked about many other things that afternoon, most of which would interest you very little. There were a few fascinating bits, but I'm not at liberty to discuss them. He wasn't at all happy with my pruning and pulling and hacking, but he didn't give me too hard a time. He knows how strange and arbitrary we can be.
I did get my clippers back. The nasty scratch is almost healed.
Hello, friends. How are you today?