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Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2002
I believe it has been said before: I have little to no regard for yardwork, the cultivating or subsequent shearing of grass, the manicuring and loving care necessitated by ornamental plant life.

I used to, don’t get me wrong. I’ve never exactly loved it, but when the 3 kids were much younger, say, in diaper / tantrum stage, I used to take unusually good care of the yard. Used to spend a lot of time outdoors. Lots and lots of time.

Ally and I bought our present house in 1992. It’s a honker, to use an old adjective, a honker house. And it was made even honkier by the previous owner, Fred the horticulturist. He really wasn’t involved in landscaping as a career, but I think he was certainly a frustrated landscaper wanna-be. He was a pharmacist by trade, worked the swing shift, so he had two things that I didn’t. Lots of disposable income and lots of time on his hands. I’m afraid Fred went a little overboard.

He had the house built new in 1982. Apparently the developer did what developers are wont to do when faced with putting in new neighborhoods. They pretty much leveled the existing forest and started with a fresh slate. Left it up to the new owners to put in vegetation and new trees. Which Fred proceeded to do. My long time neighbors say he did it every single day of the week. For ten years.

When we first pulled up to the house in 1992, Ally was very excited over the result of Fred’s labors. “Oooh”, she cooed. “Look at all the trees and bushes and stuff! How pretty!” Truth be told, it did look very nice. The house had a virtual rainforest of greenery and a yard worthy of a putting green. It put adjacent yards to shame, with their modest acumen of holly and sycamore and live oak. Everyone had grass, but nobody had anything to even approach the arboretum that was Fred’s pride and joy.

Our realtor called it curb appeal.

Let me tell you something. Curb appeal ought to stay at the curb. Or at least ought to sound a warning bell. A 'curb your enthusiasms' bell.

A couple of years went by and I kept up with it. The yard work, that is. I had none of Fred’s daylight hours to tackle it, but it didn’t stop me from putting in a couple of hours after work or all day Saturday. Or both. Funny thing though. The stuff never stopped growing. Oh I could manage the grass. I had a most wondrous mower (still do) which could make short work of the place. It was the trees and bushes. And the resulting towering monolithic formations which they created.

There was a pool in the backyard (for the moment, there still is) and the pool was surrounded by a high deck. Fred had planted some sort of tall growth hedge around the whole thing that I dutifully attacked with an electric hedge trimmer while standing on the deck. Every now and then I would saw right through the electrical cord, to the delight of my ever present and semi-retired neighbor, who could be counted on to hoot “Fred never did it that way!” as I cursed and flailed and sweated through the Cambodia of hedge to retrieve the severed end of cord.

I once counted thirty-two separate trees in the yard. We’re talking an average 12,000 square foot lot here folks. This is not a country estate. And don’t even ask how many cubic feet of hedge or bush or flowering shrub. It would scare me to know, so I never even attempted to get a grasp on that.

So I went to war with the yard. I can’t exactly remember when I did, but it’s been going on for at least the last 5 years. Sort of like the Crusades. I’m in it for the long term. Instruments of destruction subtly replaced my inventory of care and feeding products. Scythes and saws, shovels of all kinds, poison as strong as the law allows. I attacked, and the enemy rallied and dug in.

Last fall I called up a tree surgeon (which is the epitome of job title enhancement. Tree surgeon? Tree whacker would be better). Floyd the tree guy came out and brought his chewing tobacco with him. We kicked around the yard for a while, his eyes getting bigger and bigger, cartoon dollar signs began appearing on his sun baked forehead. To his credit, Floyd was a good old boy and found kindred spirit in me, especially when I groveled on the ground before him and begged him to relieve me of trees, trees, any tree he liked. Slash and burn Floyd, call in the troops and warm up the saws.

He felled 11 trees in one day and you could barely tell he’d been there. Big trees, the kinds that produce much firewood. A smashing blow for the yard, but a counterattack was brewing.

Since the sun could now get in to areas of the rainforest that had previously never seen daylight, new growth sprung up unbidden and certainly unwelcomed. In my delirium, I had figured that once defeated, the opposition would never rally. Wrong, plant boy. Bushes that have no name sprung up like Hessian troops to mock me, growing at a fearful rate and overtaking certain strategic corners of the yard. Old time growth found new life in the sun, and spread out at a prodigious pace.

Ally, once the admirer of the landscape, watched all of this in alarm. And now that she is retired, has lots of time on her hands to observe and report enemy movement. In her usual calm way, she came to me the other day.

“I’m gonna go out there and hack down every living thing. I’ll moonscape this place, you just watch. You gonna help or not?” It really wasn’t a question, it was an ultimatum. And she wasn’t exactly satisfied with my demurral, my tired and defeated resignation that the yard had probably won, probably always would win, that anything short of a nuclear event would fall short of my long campaign to beat the plants back to the neighbors yards where they belonged.

“Then I’ll get Stu to help. He’s got a chainsaw and . . and everything!” This is my wife’s answer to most repair / renew tasks facing Casa Outfoxed. Husband acting slothful or uninspired? Call in Stu. Major artillery.

Sure enough, the dawn saw Stu pulling up in full battle array, he even brought in his wife Pat as weapons carrier. A sober Stu at 7 am is a sight to behold. Impeccable in his white overalls, he carried a black case which much resembled something you would expect for a fine cello, but I knew that his beloved chainsaw would be housed in nothing less than the finest. He struck a pose in the driveway, the sun glinting off Ray-Bans as he gazed at the canopy of trees before him. Pat struggled with an armload of loppers, shears, gas cans and gloves. I watched all of this from my bedroom window as I shook Ally awake with alarm. “Stu and Patty are here and they’re armed! Wake up, for God’s sake!”

Stu was almost casual in his speed. He waded into the fray with wood chips flying, chainsaw growling. I’m sure the neighbors were a lot less casual about hearing all of this at sunup but they’re used to my peculiarities. Some are actually sympathetic to my plight, some just roll their eyes and mutter “Oh Jesus he’s at it again.”

We developed a system. Stu cut, I hauled. Bushes dropped with aplomb and were carried to the driveway to be stacked, or just left in place for the mop-up team of Ally and Patty to tote. We were on a roll. Stu cut a swath across the yard leaving legions of old growth behind. Until he got to the Killer bush.

A long time nemesis, the Killer bush had thorns as long as two inches, grew ugly orange berries in the spring and was one of my chief opponents in Yard War II. Often attacked, it always grew back bigger than before, and meaner. It was actually big enough now to block our path, and Stu looked questioningly at me as we approached it and he took a tentative swipe. Over the rumble of the chainsaw, he mouthed “Well?” at me. And I gave him the sign. Go ye, and destroy.

The chainsaw wound up to ear-splitting levels as the Crew charged forward. I felt invincible if only because I had gloves on and Stu was doing most of the close-in work, so I forgot. Forgot that I had shorts on and the Killer bush had a memory. A long and hateful memory.

By the time I remembered, my legs looked like a wildcat had used them as a scratching post. “Look out for the thorns”, I screamed at Stu over the saw. “The bloody thing’s fighting back!”

And in spite of the fact that he had overalls on, thorns broke off and hurled themselves at him. Not a few came to rest in the general area of his zipper. I swear, tiny plant hands were throwing thorns at us like so many Indians on the warpath. There was blood and warwhoops and mayhem.

Stu gritted his teeth and buried the saw into the trunk of the thing, grinding it down to ground level as the bush gave up and collapsed to the earth. Maniacally, Stu wasn’t satisfied until the Killer was dismembered into hundreds of foot long sections.

We emerged from the underbrush where our wives awaited, a little horrified at our appearance. I shook off the last of the thorns and gave the Killer a last satisfying kick in the trunk. “Okay ladies, grab the wheelbarrow and load the dead. We’re out of here.”

This is not over. It may, in fact, never be over. But I have faced the enemy and made him pay, heh heh.

I can only wonder what the next rainfall will bring. Or the next sunny day. One thing’s for sure. I’m gonna watch the corner where the Killer bush once ruled.

If I see so much as a sprig growing out of the ground, I’m going to mash it underfoot. Then I’ll spray some Killer killer on it. Yeah.

That’ll show ‘em. Damn you, Fred.

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