There comes a time when a man has to venture beyond the screen barrier known as the back porch and set foot into what is normally called the back yard but which, in my case, resembles the country of Kreplachia after the East Slavavagochans trampled it in 1038. (The borders are still in question.) It’s not that I am a lazy man; anyone that knows me can tell you that I’m the sort who works at something until I am half dead, and then I go back for more.
No– it’s fear. There are rare and dangerous things out there in the backyard world, and I can be counted on to run into every one of them in the course of an afternoon. What starts out optimistically and innocently ends in horror, as if I’d been innocently placed on the set of one of those wildlife observation shows– you know, half-hour live close ups of cute baby tigers gnawing at a zebra’s liver.
After driving ninety-six miles out of my way to buy fresh mulch, because my selective sense of political correctness forbids me from shopping at the Wal-Mart five minutes away, I begin my Saturday morning standing in front of seventy-five neatly stacked bags of shredded cypress- the plain kind. (NEVER buy that red designer mulch, because, at the first rain, it will look as if you’ve been gutting whales outside.) Neatly stacked, with all the labels facing the same way because… well, because. Just as I position the last bag, prior to opening and spreading their contents, is usually when the angry fire ants whose extensive catacombs I have unknowingly covered decide to go on the march. They crawl up one leg, tiptoe around a bit finding their way, and then descend down the other leg. When all are in a position guaranteed to inflict the most pain, they all decide to bite on cue. Sting. Chomp. Picture sixty very tiny pit bulls working on you at once; get the picture?
One week and thirty dollars worth of ant killer later, it’s time to venture back outside. All seems well. I get the trowel, the shovel, the gloves; the rake, the spade, the fertilizer, the cow manure; I line up the dozens of annuals, the Lithuanian ivy, the orchids, the tomatoes. I scan for ants: there are none in sight and, besides, I have wrapped my feet and legs in black plastic garbage bags. Smart, right? Very smart, actually, until the world’s biggest wasp begins helicoptering near my right ear, just enough beyond my peripheral vision so that I panic, run toward the house, and fall right down, hard, because black plastic garbage bags have absolutely no traction at all.
By weekend number three, it is broiling enough to bake anything that I have managed to plant, but still– I keep trying. And why didn’t anyone warn me about the mockingbirds who have nested in the Turk’s cap bushes? Mockingbirds are very territorial (I looked this up on Wikipedia.) They will hound you to the death if you come anywhere NEAR their babies which, actually, are not really attractive enough for anyone to bother observing closely in the first place. Let’s admit it– they’re not cardinals, okay? The only thing to do is plant and prune and fertilize with one hand, while holding up a protective umbrella in the other. It may look silly, but we have a tall fence.
By weekend four, I am overwhelmed by the collective appearances of a black snake; noisy Cuban tree frogs which sound like my Neapolitan grandfather when he belched; snails which leave tracks all over but can never be found, dammit (maybe the snake eats them?); and a neighborhood hawk who feasts on the smaller fauna hereabouts while perched on a branch high up in a pine tree. Do you know what it’s like to be rained upon with tiny bones, fur, and feathers while trying to pick green hornworms off the tomatoes with two-foot long clippers?
That’s why I think it’d be better if I stayed inside for the rest of the year. When the backyard gets to looking really terrible, I will simply draw the curtains. That’s the simplest gardening chore ever.