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Posts Tagged ‘Terabithia’

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A planned life is a dead one. –Lauren Bacall

The Greens

I left on a walk today with no plans on where to go. Like none. Headed a few blocks west and thought, well…I don’t have enough spinach left for my salad tonight. I’ll go pick dandelion greens. So I went to a spot that’s: 1) untended public lands (pesticides unlikely) 2) away from sidewalks (and their attendant leaky dogs).

And did well, as you can see above. Dandelion greens are tenderest and the least bitter when no longer than a finger—shorter, if you can get them. And I have little fingers.

The Visit Home

Then, since these lands are opposite the ballfield where I spent most of my childhood, I decided to poke around a little and see what was new in the old haunt. We kids owned that place, and it was our home. No hyperbole.

There’s a batting cage and a tennis court, plus sometimes people tee off just for fun, much to the irritation of the cops. And apparently the aim of today’s suburban athletes hasn’t improved from days of yore; there were as many balls in the woods as there were old sycamore branches. You could open a Sports Authority.

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Okay, a kiosk.

And I see kids still have offline fun. Kind of heartening.

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‘Kinda loud’ JUST DOESN’T CUT IT.

I wandered to the northeast corner of the ballfield where we used to play an outdoor version of house, on the rough grounds that straddle the gully. It was usually dry, but got muddy when it rained a lot. The spot is overgrown now, and backs up against new houses. But in the day…it was a freaking kingdom.

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New Jersey’s version of Terabithia.

The Poultry

Right up against this corner is a house that—wow—now has a chicken coop? In Interlaken? And here comes a blonde woman to feed them, and—*resist passing out from shock*—I know her?

‘Hi! What are you doing?’ she asks.

‘Foraging.’

‘Oh, okay.’

As if she’s just asked where I got my pants, and I’d said, ‘L.L. Bean.’ But she does raise chickens in the tidiest, sweetest little suburb in the Western hemisphere. So her chill reaction makes sense.

Leslie’s husband makes hot sauce for a living. She’s trained in herbal medicine, grows a lot of that sort of thing, and raises these Rhode Island Red chickens. She ran inside for a dozen fresh-laid eggs for me.

And that’s how I came to carry a fistful of rapidly wilting greens and a dozen eggs through a town that has no stores of any kind. Well…I have had weirder moments in that town.*

The Last Surprise

I was stunned to see white violets (Viola sororia) growing a month earlier than usual. Here, these are May belles. Then I was further knocked out to see a variety I’d never seen before…and I know every flower in this one-horse town. It’s a violet, but can’t figure out what kind. Does anyone know? White with Pollack-esque purple speckles.

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More Poultry

Near the flowers I saw a Canada goose chomping away on grass, and called his attention to the violets. I told him that some varieties taste like mint, but he ignored me. Nice.

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Oh, like plain grass is so good.

The Dinner

Tossed the dandelion greens in with my smidge of spinach. That’s avocado you see in there, too, since I’m still inexplicably obsessed, plus a little bit of cheese, plus red onion, plus olive oil and salt. Didn’t have an egg yet. Tomorrow.

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I ate a massive chocolate chip cookie before this.

*Once I sold blue-tinted 7-Up with my friends from the edge of their driveway. It was roughly the color of Ty-D-Bol. Some tennis players came over for a drink, saw the color, and one of them said to the other, ‘You first.’

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Overblown saplings–a miniature Terabithia.

When I was a kid, people took care of their yards, made them look nice, but not to obsession. No one was shooting for the front lawn of Versailles. What was the point? People had better things to do, and besides, they had four kids and eleven nieces and nephews and consequently were going to host barbecues and egg hunts. You mowed your lawn, maybe you planted a few flowers or a vegetable garden, but that was it.

In our yards we’d tear around under the sprinkler a lot. We played Hide and Seek behind the azalea and rhododendron hedges and climbed the Japanese maples*. We played Red Light Green Light, Midnight, and Mother May I. In the fall we once mapped out leaves in a grid on the grass to make pretend rooms, and played house. At my aunt and uncle’s place we’d amble out to the ground cover at the southern end of the yard where our cousins said little men lived, and they told us stories about them. It’s one of my earliest memories.

Ubi sunt, a motif in medieval literature, comes to mind.** The Latin translates to ‘where are?’ As in, ‘Where are the people we used to hang with, where are the places we used to love to visit, where did the old times go? Why does everything have to change? What gives?’ This brand of nostalgia is just as applicable in the poems of our daily lives as it was in Beowulf. Some days I feel the old chain mail rattling on me a lot.

It’s true that much is different today; and back to yards, when it comes to them, I can’t imagine that those differences are good for anybody. I mentioned in a recent post that the current owners of my cousins’ house ripped out almost everything—the sour cherry tree, the loosely growing hedges, the tree house, even pulled the patio right off the back of the house—and covered the holes with Astro-Turf green sod. It’s as soulless as the eyes of a Rodeo Drive mannequin.

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Woodland strawberry leaves, early winter.

I know a couple whose yard is a self-imposed leaf-free zone. I mean all year. I mean in a town with enormous, century-old trees. The kind with leaves on them. To put it plainly, keeping the yard free of leaves is a combo platter of futility and insanity. One time the wife spotted six insurgent leaves in the front flower bed and asked her husband to get rid of them before company came that day ‘because they didn’t look good.’ I swear to you I’m not making this up.

Forsythia hedges, meant to grow with extravagant wide shaggy yellow arms every spring, are now often shaved into somewhat unnerving spheres. At the school bus stop across the street from the house where I grew up, another massive hedge, covered in spring with sweetly perfumed white blossoms, has been chopped down to a waist-high nub.

Why does it seem everything these days has to be senselessly tidied? Prettified? I’ve talked about this a lot—with food and otherwise. It seems to be pervasive everywhere, this notion of showboat over substance. Creeps me out, quite frankly.

Well, I’m not poopy by nature. Bash on, regardless! as the English say. So. Below, my personal recommendations.

Mind you, now, I am not suggesting you stifle your creativity. If your yard is your proverbial canvas, have at it. But…I am gently but firmly asking that you don’t create yourself into a box—a predictable, restrictive, limiting box. Creativity is supposed to make the world bigger, not smaller. Hint: If you routinely call out things to the kids like, ‘Don’t touch the hydrangeas,’ ‘Stay away from the garden arches,’ ‘No Aquasocks near the day lilies–you’ll elevate the pH in the soil,’ you’re in a box. Take a note from my boy Jim Morrison and break on through.

How To Keep A Yard

1. Let it be a little rough here and there. Let the hedges get a little overgrown. They’re hiding places. They’re necessary.

2. Let the paint on your deck steps be imperfect. Rough spots are the scrapbook pages of stories told there, after-school cuddles, lunchbox parking spaces, jumping games.

3. Teach the kids how to apply bug spray, show them what poison oak and ivy and sumac looks like, and then leave them alone.

4. Value the romance in the edges of a yard, where the cultivated meets the wild. They are the places where the wondrous and the scary and the huge and the tiny and the improbable can dance. I don’t believe there is anything in the universe—even the universe—bigger than a kid’s imagination. Spending time in the shadowy crevices, in those places where human order bumps up against natural disorder—that’s where imagination can spin, that’s food for the soul. The best kind.

5. Let kids have a little patch of earth that’s all theirs. They get to choose what’s on it. A pizza garden with basil, oregano and any vegetable they deign worthy of eating, or just a dusty tableau to imagine onto, with or without props. And when it rains it’s mud. Tell me what’s better than that. Want to create? Want them to create? Start with mud.

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Happily, ubi sunt holds off from time to time. It’s a relief. I visited the nubbed-down hedge at the bus stop today. There are flower buds on it. Only about 16, but I’ll take it.

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And the ground cover at my cousins’ house remains. When I walk past I think about what my cousins said, about the little men who lived in it. Who knows? Maybe they did. Or still do.

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*Oops. Just outed us after 35 years 🙂 Sorry, Mom.

**I love how a literary motif I learned in 1989 will never be lost to me, but I couldn’t tell you the license plate number of the car I’ve driven for 11 years.

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