We are not gardeners, my husband and I. It's been a while since I tried to coax anything out of the ground or out of a pot. Our house in New Orleans had paved yards in place of grassy lawns and our property manager took care of trimming what bushes and trees there were and gathering the branches and leaves that dropped. The last time I had to handle an out-of-control patch of weeds running riot between the concrete, I got some saddleback caterpillar stings and had to retreat to get some Sevin pesticide. I imagined New Orleans gardening to be a contact sport for which I was little prepared. It was good to have that load off my brain.
Enter our move to the greater Houston area. For the first time since Dan or I left our parents' homes to lead our own lives, we have a large front and back yard on which grass grows. We are charged with maintaining the yards in our lease. I hired a nice man named Pedro to come with a crew once a month to tackle the pine needles and pinecones of the front yard and the tendency of the backyard to become a thicket only Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom would love, but the grass still grows, the trees still drop leaves and branches. Three days ago, I took one look at our yards, pulled out the rake and our human-powered push mower, and started to gather the detritus and mow.
I can't say that it's our lease that has motivated me, nor has it been the state of our neighbors' pristine green patches. The homeowners' association sent us a note that gave us ten days to get our lawn like all the others or else, which appealed to Dan's and my passive-aggressive tendencies. "Oh, WELL, let them come!" we said, only to get angry all over again when the property manager for this house asked us about it a month after we got the note. Fine, replant our yard - please! Oh, the woe, the gnashing of teeth over our living in a deed-restricted area.
Replanting our yard isn't happening. Dan doesn't want to put any more money than he has to into a place we're only renting.
Yet here I am, raking and bagging what I can, pushing the mower around in rows and circles, marveling at the loads of pinecones the evergreens are dropping. I saw a bag of cinnamon-scented ones for sale at a craft store. I could stick a sign out in front of our yard and charge people to gather ours, there have been so many. But I'm not into trimming grass and raking for the money.
Our parents are gardeners and yard maintainers, such that it should have been in our DNA to yearn for our own patch of land to mow and cultivate, but the ways in which it was done turned us both off. In my dad, it presented itself as a magnificent obsession that warranted loads of weekend trips to Teas' Nursery, the planting of flower beds that resculpted the yard making mowing the front yard an act of bizarre, spinning intricacy at times, and the constant weeding and plucking of pansy petals. In Dan's house, his father made him and any friends who came over to his house do yard work; Dan made certain to spend chunks of his weekends at other friends' houses.
Dan cannot take the smell of gasoline and other fuel oils in the garage, seeing it as mere storage space rather than a place to park the car, hence his choice of a gasoline-free push mower to cut the grass. "It'll be good exercise for me, anyhow," he said. "I could lose some weight." I can count on one hand the times he's wrestled with the mower - which isn't entirely fair, as we've only been here since July - and his one attempt at taming the backyard with a battery powered weed-eater ended with him throwing in the towel and acquiescing to hiring a professional. I've certainly done a good deal of walking, bending over to pick up errant detritus so that it wouldn't get stuck in the mower blades, and bagging of stuff in the past few days, but that exercise isn't why I trimmed and cleaned our front yard and am slowly getting the backyard done.
Times are uncertain here, and I, as a primarily stay-at-home parent, am feeling it. I haven't felt this unsure of the future and what it might bring since graduating college. I'm all too reliant on my spouse as breadwinner, quite worried about my son's attitudes towards his schoolwork, and generally feeling powerless in my current part-time job. Making new friends here has been hard; meeting with older ones still in the area has proven to be just as hard due to the crushing realities of incompatible work schedules and long travel distances.
What is certain in the face of all of this is that grass grows. And mowers cut.
When my spouse has his frustrations at work, I can see the results of raking up the pinecones far more than I can parse with him what exactly the problems are and how to solve them. I can't accompany him to work and try to do what he does, but I can bag pine needles and take the bags to the curb for pickup.
When my son decides organizing and following directions is not as interesting as reading the fifth Harry Potter book in the series, I can nag and nag at him to get the work he ignores done, help him organize as much as I can, then take some of my frustrations out on the growing grass.
When I am filled with these recent insanities and far, far more, I can kick back with some wine in the couch swing I just got and enjoy the only thing I can really count on right now…
…Grass grows. Mowers cut.
One more thing I can count on? Change is the only constant.
And I hope things change for the better soon.