Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Best Yard on the Block - Part One

About six weeks ago, we hired a couple from the Spanish congregation of our church to come to our home and help us with our yard. These are not the usual landscapers, the ones who show up with a lawnmower and a blower and start to make hay of the front yard. The husband has a degree in agriculture. They take their time, get down on their knees, and weed with great care not to remove anything other than weeds. They spread mulch by hand rather than simply dumping the wheelbarrow and spreading with a rake. But I'm getting ahead of my story.

On the same day that I asked them if they could drop by sometime and tell us what was ailing our yard, Marlon and his wife, Alexandra, came to our home, walked around the front and back yard for nearly an hour, and then asked us to sit down at the backyard table while they gave us their diagnosis. Their assessment was extensive, and the list of what needed to be done was long.

First of all, there were many weeds that needed to be pulled. There was poison ivy and several other poisonous plants that needed to be removed. The shoot of a pecan tree was growing between some low flowering bushes. When I asked where it could have come from, they explained that a squirrel had probably buried the nut there and then forgotten to retrieve it. In the midst of one cluster of crepe myrtle trees, another tough-skinned weed had grown up to nearly ten feet in height. Wisteria is beautiful, but deadly for a garden, so it had to go. The list went on and on and on.

I cannot even say that I was ashamed of the condition of our yard; I wasn't. Steve and I admitted to them that we know next to nothing about horticulture, agriculture, or any kind of culture. We like low grass and colorful flowers. We don't like weeds or poison ivy. Could they help us? Yes, indeed, they could.

They started the same day. They started working on the tiny tract of land around our mailbox and extracted dead or dying bushes, plants, and weeds. They removed all the pine needles (which serve as mulch in this area of the country) and made a hasty acquaintance with a snake that had considered that pine bed its home until that moment. They staked up the rose bush that was adjacent to the box and trimmed back other flowering plants - all this on a patch of land about four feet by five feet. I was most surprised by the sudden appearance of the rose bush - it had been so overrun with all the other overgrown foliage that I didn't even know it was there.

Marlon and Alexandra worked for hours that first day.
Mostly at the foot of that mailbox. After they left,
the four of us stood around that mailbox garden in silent awe.
This was going to be good. And we all knew it.

At the curb beside us were bags of pine needles.
Bags of weeds. Bags of dead leaves and vines.
Piles of dying bushes that had finally been put out of their misery.
Piles of overgrown bushes that had been trimmed aggressively.
Mounds of debris that had somehow been deposited beneath the overgrown bushes.
All hauled to the curb for the yard waste removal truck to remove.

Standing there with the mailbox miracle at our feet, we were confronted with how much of a mess our front yard was. Until we saw what was possible, we had no idea how bad it had gotten.

Marlon and Alexandra saw the same mess that we saw, but they saw how good it could be. They knew what was possible so the mess that lay before them was far less daunting for them that it was for us.

I have before me now the little plant identification sticks that came with the flowers Marlon and Alexandra deposited in our newly fertilized, cultivated, and pine-mulched yard: celosia (of various colors), daylilies, gomphrena, spreading petunias, and verbena. Plus there at least three other types of bushes that adorn our newly festooned field of dreams; without the little white stick-thing, there is absolutely no way this Brooklyn-girl can name them properly. In any case, the yard looks spectacular. We've been complimented by our neighbors and by visitors to our neighborhood as well: We've got the best yard on the block.

If you've ever read my blog before, you know that I don't share this story simply because I'm proud of our yard - although I certainly am enjoying how beautiful it is. I am writing all this because all the yard work got me to thinking about how I let my personal life, my spiritual life, my emotional life get overgrown. The soil of my heart, of your heart, of all our hearts is fertile. Our hearts long to have certain seeds sown, cultivated, watered, and tended: love, forgiveness, acceptance, affirmation, restoration, reconciliation. More often than not, weeds are sown: anger, bitterness, isolation, pain, fear, loneliness. Weeds become stalks; stalks become trees that send roots of sorrow deep under the surface of our lives. Long-forgotten nuts like betrayal, disappointment, and abandonment grow up and are nearly immovable.

Every now and then, though, we manage to clear a patch of thorns. We dig deeply enough to release a few hidden serpents and remove enough ground cover so that fresh air, water, and fertilizer can have an effect. We read, journal, travel, talk to a therapist, confide in a friend or spouse. We pray. We read Scripture. We meditate. We allow healing waters to flow in and through us. Then we stand back and marvel at the radiance of the newly tilled soil of our souls. We had no idea how bad it was until we saw how good it could get.

Marlon and Alexandra returned to our house this past Saturday afternoon to give us the estimate for the work that must be done in our backyard. They began working on Monday evening, but there's a lot left to do.

Likewise, I began working on this blog earlier today but had to stop because of dinner and our usual evening activities. Please forgive me, but I have to get some sleep. To be continued...

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