You know, it’s hard to keep a place looking nice in the summer. Everything just grows and grows whether you want it to or not, and yet I don’t mind the tall rustling grass, and the scattered clusters of foxglove. So I’ve decided to let everything go fallow -it’ll do it good, I figure. Of course I did the same last year as well, and things haven’t changed much. I like the wild look, though, and love to sit on the porch and watch the wind waves writing on the grass and tossing the foxglove stems around like masts in a harbour.
I think it intrigues some of the people driving by, because they often slow down and their children point at the profusion of green from their car seats. Kids are curious; they want to understand Nature, and of course I’m proud and honoured to play my part. But the burdock seems to be taking over this year. I can’t wade more than a few meters through the fields without risking an hour taking burrs off my pants.
Anyway, I was recently given a hint by someone that I may have a rural jungle. She had been driving by and decided to knock on my door. “I haven’t seen you in the town for a while,” she said “and when I noticed the fields around your house getting… well, anyway, I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”
I wasn’t really sure what she was getting at, but I put on my best smile and asked her to come in. “I’m fine,” I answered, to be polite. I didn’t figure she really wanted to hear about my recent cough, or the fact that my knees still ached from my run the day before.
Perhaps she was hoping for some incriminating disorder because she kept studying me while we talked -I mean, while she talked -I’ve always found it hard to talk when I’m smiling.
“You used to have lambs, didn’t you?” she continued, probably to show me she was a local. “I guess they’re a big help in keeping the grass down and the place looking nice…”
I nodded. “Win/win. Lambs, and before that it was llamas…”
Her eyes scrinched up, as if I was trying to fool her with a kind of primitive homonym, or something. I could see her examining my living room through the scrinches -but carefully, so as not to offend. Fortunately, the cleaning people had come the day before, so I didn’t think there was any underwear lying around on the floor or wherever yet.
“I’m Martha,” she said, and suddenly extended her hand to shake. But before I could reply in kind, she used the opportunity to cast a quick, wide-eyed glance at my kitchen and dining area. I don’t think she was very interested in my name, because as I was saying it, she spotted some laundry I had carefully piled on the table beside some plates from breakfast as a reminder. “I’m sorry,” she blurted out suddenly. “I can see I’ve interrupted you in the middle of something.”
It sounded more like a hope than an observation, but I mounted the smile again just in case.
“No, I was just tidying a few things up around here.” I didn’t really mean it, but I thought it fit rather nicely into the mood.
A sweet smile crept slowly across her face and she nodded affably. “There’s always something to do, isn’t there?” She swept the rooms she could see with another glance. “My husband…” -I could tell she was trying to warn me not to expect too much from her visit- “He just hates cleaning up around the house.” I could feel her hit me with a quick sortie from her eyes while I was looking away. “He’s more of a yard person,” she added, recalling her eyes to a more defendable position.
“My father was like that, too,” I responded, and nodded pleasantly. “He was always out cutting the grass, or trimming the hedge. Rain, or shine, you could always find him out there somewhere…”
“Well…” She started to say something when I interrupted.
“But that was just before he divorced my mother…” I thought I should explain. “So he was more comfortable where she wasn’t.”
“Oh… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to dig up old…” She really did look sorry. I kind of suspected she’d wanted to talk about her husband and how he was so helpful in the yard, and now it wouldn’t seem proper.
“That’s okay,” I reassured her, “After the divorce, he never touched a lawnmower again.”
Her eyes grew wide before she could stop them. “He started hiring me to do it for him whenever I visited.”
She looked relieved for some reason. “Then you…”
I live alone and I don’t get to partake in many conversations anymore, so I sometimes have the habit of interrupting whenever a thought occurs to me. “But my mother and I moved to another city, so I only got to visit him once a month or so.”
She tried another smile on, but it didn’t seem to stick this time. “So, I guess…”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t believe how much grass and weeds and hedges can grow in a month…” I have to admit I was beginning to warm up to my new audience. “It got so that I would tell my mother I didn’t really want to visit him as much in the summer. I mean, that’s when you go camping and stuff, and he never wanted to do that like my mom…”
Her mouth started a word, but I beat her to the sound. “And besides,” I continued, “I told her I didn’t like the woman he was living with. That worked, and she compromised by making me phone him every week and tell him I missed him.”
“But didn’t you m…?”
“Of course I did,” I quickly added, “But he had an urban jungle, and if I only phoned him, he’d have to hire some neighbourhood kid to do the yard work.”
I stopped talking when I saw her check her watch a few times.
“Bob loves to work in the yard,” she said, relieved that she could liberate a few of the words that had been roiling around in her mouth. “He loves to keep things neat and tidy out there,” she added. “He says he doesn’t want it to become a rural jungle, or anything.” For a moment, her eyes seemed like needles on my face, and then softened.
I loved her transformation of my ‘urban jungle’ description into a particularly apt sylvan metaphor, though. She and Bob must be a literate people, I realized.
“Well, I just dropped by to say hello,” she said, glancing at her watch again. “I’m sure you want to get started on your gardening. Sorry I disturbed you.”
“Not at all, Martha. It was nice of you to drop by,” I replied, and opened the door for her, wondering why she thought I was a gardener.
“I miss the lambs, though,” she said and headed resolutely down the steps to her car.
I miss them too, actually, but they’d all be covered in burrs by now, so I suppose it’s just as well, eh?