Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Broken Ground

I am pleased to say that the front yard redo has begun.  The guys came at 7:00 a.m. yesterday morning and brought their sod cutter with them.  I am tempted to ask them to stop here.  Look at all that bare dirt!  I could just go crazy with plants and never bring the lawn mower out front again.  

But I will resist.  For one, I don't think my wife would go for it.  Secondly, the benefit of lawn in this case is that it's actually lower maintenance for me than other options since I can just mow the often-mentioned and much-hated palm seedlings that constantly grow in my yard.  And, finally, if and when we come to a point where we decide to sell our house, I think the "average" buyer would prefer the expected American front yard which means green grass. 

Speaking of grass, in the picture above there is a strip of rock that borders what was the lawn and the walkway.  The landscapers will remove this rock and use it elsewhere.  They will replace it with even more grass.  This is fine with me as I had grown weary of weeding this strip.  I may eventually remove the grass that will be installed where the rock is now and replace it with a curvaceous planting bed or perhaps grow a boxwood hedge, but for now I'm going to let the plan of sodding this area proceed without intervention. 

In the bottom left corner of the picture above you can see a black drip irrigation line.  This line currently runs directly from a hose bib a foot or two away.  This setup has worked for me just fine, but the crew is going to tap into the in-ground system and run the line beneath the stones and re-install the drip irrigation.  This will make the area look cleaner and it will be one less thing for me to worry about.  I find that drip irrigation timers can be unreliable after a while and those pesky batteries die without my permission. 

Unfortunately, what was originally estimated to be a 2 or 2 1/2-day project looks like it's going to end up taking 9 days from start to finish.  The crew has been splitting time between my yard and my neighbor's yard which they are also re-sodding.  They expect to complete the grading of my yard today but they won't have enough time to put in the pipes and lay the sod before the day is done.  And now the rains of Northern California's wet season are scheduled to begin in earnest tomorrow morning and continue for five straight days.  They are warning of potential flooding.  Which means lots and lots of mud in my yard and not a very good time to be trenching sprinkler lines and laying sod.  [Insert grumpy face emoticon here!]

No work will be done in my backyard as part of this project but that doesn't mean things aren't changing there too.  The crepe myrtle leaves are changing and starting to fall finally.  I plan to use the time after the leaves have fallen to study the branching and do some artful shaping - paying special attention to the lower limbs so that eventually I can push the lawn mower beneath it without having to duck.  Those seeds just jump off the tree and attach themselves to my hair.  It's annoying.     

One of my Japanese maples, a 'Glowing Embers' has really gotten orange in the last week. 

The 'Red Dragon' pictured above is still red but it's not the deep maroon that it was this summer.  I love sitting in the iron chair next to this tree.  I love the way they look together.  The colors are so different.  The texture, also, so different.  This is a slow growing Japanese maple.  This is a quality I have grown to appreciate.  This tree looks just as perfectly sited as the day I planted it.  I can't say the same for every tree or shrub I have planted. 

And finally, a seldom-used but fairly old Japanese cultivar called 'Otto's Dissectum' has gone from light green to orange and red.  I've been growing this in a wine barrel for a couple seasons now.  It's such a nice tree.  Some day I hope to create a spot of its own for it - a place where it can sink its roots and grow without impediment and live up to its potential . . . a hope I'm sure we all desire for ourselves and our loved ones. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What a Beautiful World

Although I love to read I am a very slow reader.  As I go through a book, I pronounce each word in my head as if I were speaking it aloud.  It takes me a long time to finish a book of significant length but if the book is good enough, it’s an endeavor I gladly pursue. 
But I also enjoy the satisfaction that comes from finishing a story.  Perhaps because of that satisfaction and because I am a slow reader, I am drawn to short stories.  But I think that short stories are under appreciated these days which is a shame because short stories marry the best of the full length novel with the best of poetry.  In a short story you have characters and plot and prose just like in a novel.  But in a great short story there are things left out – things the reader must assume or imagine on their own just like in a poem.  The writer must choose their words more carefully in a short story as in a poem.  Done correctly, a short story has both the weight and the agility of a broadsword that can cut right through your malaise and leave you feeling as if you’ve just been reshaped. 

A few years back I picked up an anthology called “The Best Short Stories of the Century”.  While I was familiar with several of the stories in the book I had not heard of either Alice Elliot Dark or her short story In the Gloaming.  I didn’t even know what a “gloaming” was or how you’d get in one. 

My office building isn't exactly breath taking, but I was charmed by it last night.

I can’t tell you that I remember every line of this story or that the characters (a mother and her son who was dying from AIDS) made a huge impact on me.  But I can tell you that I was enchanted by the feeling and the mood of this story.  I learned that what I had always thought of as dusk or twilight is also called “the gloaming.”  There was something about that word that I felt drawn to.  It somehow gave new meaning to something I had experienced many times before.  Knowing a new name for it gave it another level of mystery.  Twilight was no longer that brief time after sunset but before total darkness.  It now reminded me of this transforming story.  It reminded me that our lives are sometimes strange and sometimes mundane, sometimes short and sometimes long, sometimes contemplative and sometimes we just don’t pay attention to the way life (or light) changes.

It was half light and half dark and the leaves were half gone.  Everything was in balance.

Filmmakers call it “the magic hour”.  I like that, but in my experience the magic lasts just a few minutes.  And when I walk outside this time of year I am sometimes astounded to find that I have stepped into just the kind of lightness that I associate with the gloaming.  It happened to me last night. 

I felt lucky to be alive.  I felt like standing in the parking lot until it passed.  I felt alive and quiet and a bit giddy.  I also knew, quite acutely, that too much of my life is being spent under a roof and away from windows.  I need these moments of clarity and I need to keep making myself available to them. 

I need to go for more walks.  I need to stand out in the garden even when it is cold.  I need to remember that our lives are meant to be inspired, that we are supposed to revel in the natural beauty of our planet, that we don’t need to capture or prolong these moments just as long as we keep looking for them.

In brighter light, this plant looks forlorn, neglected and out of place.  Last night it seemed like it was meant to be there.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Slow and Steady Wins the Race - Or Prolongs the Finish

I like the story of the tortoise and the hare and how the message is that the slow-and-steady approach wins the race.  I admit that I like it because it helps me justify just how long it takes me to get certain things done though.  I'm not a true procrastinator.  I'm too impulsive for that title.  I'm just slow with certain things. 

It’s been a full four months since I had the mulberry tree in my front yard removed.  With the tree gone I had to swap out a bunch of shade plants for things that love the sun.  It took me a couple weeks to figure out which plants I would use and to get them ordered, purchased, and planted, but I did it and I’ve got that dialed in to my satisfaction now.  I also got right on fixing the broken sprinkler lines in the immediate wake of the stump grinding since some things shouldn't wait. 

But in the last four months, the one glaring thing I had not done was figure out how to address the unsightly mess left behind by the stump grinding.  As was promised, the arborists back-filled the hole with the shredded-up stump.  It looks like soil but it’s not.  The surrounding grass has not encroached upon the site at all.  I suspect it has something to do with the decomposing wood tying up all the nitrogen.  The absence of the tree and its surface roots also made it painfully obvious that my yard is not level by anyone's definition. 

The "footprint" of the mulberry tree.

Back in August, I justified not doing anything about this because I figured that re-grading and then re-sodding my lawn when it was a hundred degrees out was not a good idea.  I’d put it off until September.  But then when September came I had plans that involved a week in Boston and my wife had several trips for work planned.  And it was still really hot.  It just seemed like a bad time to tackle a big project.  October, with its cooler weather would be a better month for this.  Of course, I found reasons to delay in October too.  There was a birthday I had to plan for, a 3-day weekend in Lake Tahoe I was looking forward to, playoff baseball, and still pretty oppressive heat.  At one point I did make a couple half-hearted attempts at contacting a few landscape companies to come out and give me an estimate but I had bad luck with that.  One company never called me back and I decided the other one was going to be too expensive so I cancelled their appointment. 

One of the many "sink holes" in my lawn.
Now it’s mid-November and my yard still has this big gaping hole in the center of it and there are so many holes and bumps that it looks like the template for the old Atari game Moon Patrol. 

If it weren’t for my friend and neighbor, Brian, I would probably be stuck in my tortoise shell barely moving on this.  But Brian managed to find a landscaper that would return his calls and over the past two weeks I’ve been watching these guys tear down Brian’s backyard and rebuild it into exactly what Brian wanted.  On the night they wrapped things up I approached the owner of the company and asked him if he could give me an estimate on my yard. 

I would love to do it myself.  I believe I have the capability of doing it myself.  But I also know that for me to remove 1400 square feet of sod (and tree roots), regrade the entire yard, install a functional sprinkler system and then put sod down, it would take me more weekends than I care to give up.  After some conversation with my wife, we agreed that this is one of those times when it is worth it to pay someone else to do it. 

So nothing has happened yet except that I am on the landscaper’s calendar for the week after Thanksgiving.  And I can hardly wait.  I just wish I had gotten to this point sooner but I'm going to trust that old Aesop had it right and that in the end, I'll be happy that I took the slower approach.