Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Most Beautiful Day of the Year

In reflecting on  whether any given day is the most beautiful of the year, a number of factors need to be taken into consideration. One that's often overlooked is the present-ness of the day in question. 

Two days ago the leaves on the trees were a more tender yellow-green, perhaps, and the aroma of blossoming fruit trees a little stronger in the air, but today is hardly less outstanding, and it has the added virtue of being here, now, to be enjoyed.

The other day, Hilary and I were out in the front yard pulling dandelions, she on the ground using a little garden fork, and I standing as I plunged a metal tool with six nails at the end down around a clump of weeds, again and again.

A car pulled up alongside us and a young man got out. He had a scruffy beard and was wearing a faded blue T- shirt.   

"So, I might as well ask," he said. "How do you like the neighborhood?"

"Are you thinking of buying that house across the street?" I said. (It's been for sale for months.)

"No, I'm trying to sell it."

"Well, we've lived here for thirty years. I guess we must like the neighborhood."

"I believe you. I used to live nearby, at 27th and Xerxes."

"Yeah, it's nice over there," I replied, "but you don't have all the woods just down the street. We get turkeys, deer, fox, raccoons. But maybe you get those things, too."

We talked for a while, and then another car pulled up—a young couple, the woman holding a baby. We returned to the dandelions, they greeted the realtor and the three of them went inside.

Just then our neighbor from across the street came over holding a large tool—his new weed-puller.

"I had one like yours," he said, "but it broke. I couldn't find another one so I went on line and got this hunker from Amazon. Wanna try it?"

"Sure." It was effective, if slightly less delicate in its treatment of the grass and soil surrounding the weeds.

We talked about summer camping—they have a trailer, we have a tent—and I told him  about the battle that's been raging in our front yard between a rabbit and a crow. (I haven't seen the crow lately, though the rabbit is still a familiar presence, and not the least bit skittish.) At that moment I spotted a cooper's hawk, flying low to the ground, cross the street a few houses down.

Hilary was steadfast in her weeding duties, but I gave myself a break from time to time. The dialectical of doing and not-doing is one that I enjoy. I would mow the parcel of grass we'd just cleared, then cut off a branch of the nearby spruce tree, which has been laying on the ground for years. Having committed the branch to the trash bin, it occurred to me that the local rabbit might not approve of this new breezeway I'd created.

The grass looks delicate these days, like fine strands of beautiful green hair. Maybe due to youth and the recent rains.

At one point it rained for ninety seconds while we were working, but for the most part, the clouds were well spaced and bounteous. A gentle breeze was blowing, and I was wishing I had shorts on.

The prospective buyers soon emerged from the house. I said hi to the woman with the baby as she got into the car, and she relaxed a little and returned the greeting.

I doubt if we'll be seeing them again.

I got to thinking about the era when we moved in here, next door to Cliff and Jan. He worked for the phone company, she volunteered at the U of M Landscape Arboretum, a good thirty miles from here. She used to bring us plants, some of which are still thriving. They both died long ago.

Once she brought me a little forsythia, and when I thanked her, she said, "Don't thank me for the plant. Thank me for the work of digging it up." I never understood that.

They had no children. They went bowling every Tuesday during league season. Sometimes they went fishing on Lake Michigan. He used to play recordings of the Vienna Boys Choir out the window every night at Christmas time.

Due to her connections with the arboretum, Jan was given one of the earliest hardy redbuds in the region, before it was considered hardy enough to put on the market. Though it lost a major trunk a few years ago, it's still thriving on the corner of her house next to our driveway.

We ought to call this "redbud season."

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