Our Outback

July 14, 2018   We live on 3/4 of an acre, a postage stamp in this forested, rural corner of NH. Still, the land is interesting, falling away about a dozen feet, front to back. A fine little brook flows through brush and fern. Alders throw their wet feet into a marshy spot. The lot was overgrown with the good intentions of a previous owner. Tangles of beach rose and barberry choked a slope. Hundreds of small stones were placed in a mysterious labyrinth.  Weedy pines spread deep shade. There was more moss than grass. It was a mess. And a mess of possibilities.

The labyrinth seemed weird. We were on full alert while peeling up the stones. Sure enough, a gnome-like neighbor inserted a steam of protests. More angry glares while removing thickets of invasive plants. She was back as the blight of pine trees was removed, (a blessing was placed on each as burly loggers stood aside). Back again when roofers removed a tree wrecking both foundation and shingles. And back once more, stopping a 20-ton excavator when the septic was renovated.

Counterbalancing these removals was a small galaxy of insertions. Tons of rocks were hucked and laid up into terraced walls. The understory beneath the pines was thinned and groomed to become a robust little oak-maple forest. The pine logs were milled into planks and beams. These were stirred up with leftover stones to build a backyard shed with fireplace. Each wall had a distinctive Adirondack style. The work, of course, was surveyed through squinty gnome-vision. An ancient, pointed walking stick punctuated the earth to confirm these inspections.

Years passed and nature blended the edges of this landscape into a warm, disordered harmony. Moss grew on rocks, vines climbed on walls, and ferns found amenable edges.  Nature also started to soften my own edges. Objects got dropped, tools dulled, and small tasks were postponed. The yard whispered “manana” and I listened.

Something I now consider – perhaps my gnome-neighbor had a point. Maybe the labyrinth, pines, and overgrown shrubs had harmony in their rooted connectedness. Did I disturb something ancient and primal? Did I design and witness my own cycle of ending, new beginning, maturation, and inevitable decline?

I leave this place with questions and recollections. Some of my own roots remain in this soil. There are no regrets. But I may advise the new owner to consult with her neighbor before planning changes. I’m part of this place now and I bet she will defend this spirit.

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