The Blundering Gardner

Trip Start Oct 24, 2009
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Germany  , Rhineland-Palatinate,
Saturday, June 26, 2010

It hasn't yet warmed up to the summer temperatures I’m accustomed to. Breezy mid-June highs in the low 70s are a welcome change from the southern-fried sweat baths I grew up with. From the indoors, it even looks cool outside. The sunlight filters through the verdant tree branches and settles in the grass like dew. The birds’ tremulous hymns to nature beckon and entice; and eventually I acquiesce, leaving my desk to relish in the – yes – cool June weather. For a boy that grew up in Tennessee, and who spent much of his adult life in Georgia and Kentucky, there is little to complain about when it comes to the weather in the Rhineland of Germany. Here, the springtime climate seems to take daylight savings time’s lead, pushing both longer days and milder weather into what, in my mind, should normally be scorching, brain-baking days, and barely sweltering nights.

Though the temperature is certainly most enjoyable, thick, cottony blankets of overcast skies oftentimes loom overhead, threatening cloudburst at any moment. Occasionally, the dark canopies pass in a matter of minutes; sometimes they remain, stagnant, for days, as if they have grown skywards roots. And for all that, it rains just enough for the weeds to thrive and my flowers to languish. My poor flowers aside, the weeds shoot up overnight from the flowerbeds, but also from the rocky, dustier ground, from cracks between stairs, from gravel, and even from the gears of the tractor parked in the vicinity. It takes a lot of effort to clear the yard of these scraggly, prickly, green infestations, usually more than I am willing to give. Nonetheless, peering into our landlady’s kempt and pruned adjoining gardens one recent weekend, my shame inspired action.

That afternoon, the utter asymmetry of the two halves of the backyard was a prominent as if it had been a giant, green neon sign. I put aside whatever it was I was doing at that moment, and found my mud shoes. It was time to dig up those vile, thorny creepers once and for all – or at least until they grew back. With a determined scowl, I strode through the kitchen and the utility room to the Oelraum, where I selected two of the most wicked, long-handled garden tools I could find. The first was a heavy, iron shovel; the other, a lighter, wieldier, pitchfork-type instrument with prongs that curved to point back down the handle. It had a distinct medieval aspect. Armed, dangerous, and driven, I made my way back out to the garden, and surveyed the grounds.

Breathing steadily and slowly, I considered points of attack. Casually, I glanced once more at our landlady’s garden, and turned back to our own. I focused on an incline of about twenty squared feet of crumbly, clayey ground. Purposefully, I walked up four stone steps, past the large, outdoor brick oven, and planted my feet. Any place here was as good as any other to start. Taking aim and raising the cruel weapon above my head, I swung it down in an arc. The blow struck true on the far side of a sinewy, angry weed. I slashed again, and it pulled free, root and all. Moving on to the next one, I repeated my action; and soon enough, I had found my rhythm, like a practiced knight cleaving his way through a battlefield. Upending large stones and clawing at roots, I hacked and tore vigorously at the unwanted intruders, punishing plants, earth, and unseen insects indiscriminately. Each fresh green corpse was tossed to one side into a mounting pile. For what could have been five hours or only fifteen minutes, the sharp, quick metal ravaged the land. The sun pulsed overhead; time became a blur. Lines of sweat ruled my face and my heart was pounding with a fury that only perhaps only another novice gardener could truly sympathize with. Had it gotten hotter?

Using the topside of my forearm, I swept the damp hair from my eyes and wiped my brow. My arms had a coating of dust dampened with sweat, and I felt several tiny thorns sticking my fingers through my gloves. Pulling off my gauntlets, I turned around to behold the great hecatomb. There were two piles of at least a fifty colossal weeds, unceremoniously sacrificed, and the earth was tilled with violence. Scattered about the battlefield were countless limbs, bits of stem, and veiny roots that I would not bother to pick up. Except for removing the piles of remains, my work was finished.

The weeds’ spiked armor had failed them, but even in death they were dangerous. I pulled my gloves back on and found a large, nearby terracotta pot to pile the rubbish into. Grabbing hold of a small mound of L÷wenzahne, a harmless if still unwanted plant, I used it to steady the larger pile as I scooped beneath it with a shovel. As the pot filled near brimming, I stood up to stretch my legs and draw a deep breath. At that moment, out of the corner of my eye, a sickening green glow caught my attention. Startled, my head jerked toward it. It was glowing at midday! It was another weed – gargantuan- bigger and more hideous than all the others combined.   At ten paces it intimidated, swaying back and forth; yet there was no wind. The monster’s clusters of sickeningly green leaves appeared to beckon me in a challenge – daring me to narrow the ten-pace vacuum between us. For a moment, nothing else existed.

Suddenly aware of the hooked trident lying at my feet, I bent to grasp it firmly, weighing it in my hands. The balance felt right. The advance was up to me, though I thought the beastly plant might pull up its roots out of pure malevolence. If I was going to do it, now was the time. Screwing my courage, I took a first step and then another. Without warning, I flashed in and took a strong, but half-blind swing. Contact. The blades sank in deeply and the weed jerked. I could almost hear it scream. As I tried to recover my weapon, I immediately felt it was stuck, entangled in the unholy mass of stems, leaves, and plant flesh. I pulled again. Nothing. Panic began to well up inside of me. What else could I do put pull, praying it would come free? I yanked with all my might and it gave way a little bit, but not enough. Quickly, I swiveled my head, sweat flying; I was looking for an escape route. Once more, I closed my eyes and my stomach clenched. A shiver shot down my spine, or was it up? A surge of adrenaline, a flash of white light burned my eyes, and my weapon was free, tearing away cruel plant appendages. There was no time for recovery. I leapt again at the atrocity before I could think, hacking and slicing feverishly in a whirlwind of dust and chlorophyll. And then it was done. Trembling, I sat down among the scattered green plant pieces, praying it wasn’t a perennial.

That night, I slept surprisingly well. My dreams were peaceful and happy, free from satanic weeds, and the next morning I woke up refreshed. Over the course of the week, my mind returned occasionally to my heroic deeds, of how I had slain the hideous plant beast. I told no one of my exploits, however, except for Tracy, to whom I simply mentioned that I had done a little gardening. I didn’t say that I had surely come within an inch of my life protecting her and our dog, Dante, from the raptures of evil in our own backyard. Honor and humility have always been top priority for me. I simply walked around with my chin up, my shoulders back, in quiet self-assuredness.

Not long after that, perhaps a week, Dante and I went out for a short walk behind the house. As she lazily strolled the grounds, pausing to chew on tall grass, I spied a tennis ball a few feet from where I stood.

"You want the ball?" I said excitedly, trying to animate Dante. “Go get it!”

Dante launched herself after the ball as it sailed to the other side of the yard. My eyes followed her as she stutter-stopped and scooped the ball up with her mouth. She sprinted back towards me and I crouched down to a near squat, challenging her playfully for her prize. She knew the game. At the very last second she changed direction, avoiding my outstretched hands, before slowing to a trot, then a walk, and finally flopping down on her side for me to come get the ball.

This time, however, I didn’t see her final evasive maneuver. As Dante was sprinting toward me, a multitude of beautiful salmon-colored blooms arrested my eyes; and they began a new trajectory. From the crowns of those radiant blossoms, I traced the stems down to the body of the plant, and my mouth dropped open. That was the only part of me that moved. My body felt heavy, as though it were made of concrete. I recognized that infested-looking foliage, the thickness of body, that iridescent, poisonous glow. Yet, where had those angelic flowers come from? I was awash with thoughts, the most recurrent of which I kept trying to deny. Eventually, I gave in to what I knew was the truth: I had barbarously mangled what now looked to be one of the crowning jewels of Hannah’s garden.

For the next few days I thought of how I should deal with this situation. That is, I kept asking myself whether or not I should confess my crime. It wasn’t any more complicated than that, yet that simple yes/no binary seemed the most complex set of circumstances I had face in a long time. No palliative or excuse I could come up with would hold water. After all, how does one accidentally hack something to pieces? Pleading insanity was not an option. My mind kept flashing back to one early- afternoon impromptu German language lesson with Hannah when she taught me the word Unkraut, or “weed.” She didn’t know the word in English, so I repeatedly pointed to various plants in her garden, saying Blume or Unkraut. When finally I understood the new word, I would still regularly point to flowers and say “weed,” to which she would shake her head no. I still say that some of those differences in opinion can and should be chalked up to culture.

At last, after much deliberation, I decided there was no way around it, and that I had to come clean to our landlady. “It’s the noble thing to do, after all,” I propped myself up. “I’ll just apologize to her and take my lumps. I’ll even offer to replace it.” Somehow the prospect of bearing the brunt of her anger made me feel all the more noble.

Two days passed when I did not see Hannah at all. Her car was gone for the most part, but I was rarely able to put my imminent admission of guilt out of mind. In fact, the tension only grew stronger. Then, one day as I parked my car short of the garage, I saw Hannah leaving her house. I got out of my car before finishing the parking job, leaving it running, and waved. With a grin, she waved back. As I approached her, I started, “Hannah, I’m so sorry…”

“What?” she asked. My car sputtered and had covered up my words. Whew, that was a bad start anyway. I reset my brain.

“Hannah, you know those tall, red flowers you have in your garden? About so high?” I gestured with my hand just below chest height.

She thought for a moment, and said, “Oh, you mean the…?” and she named the flower in German. I don’t know what word she used, but I assumed that had to be it.

“I think so,” I replied. “Did you by chance plant one of those at the top of our stairs? Because I…”

“Ohhhh, yes,” she cut me off. Here it comes, I thought. To my surprise, she smiled a broad smile and shook her head with just a touch of rue. With a palpable German accent she chuckled lightly, “Thomas have run over that flower with the… what do call it?” She made a pushing motion. It was a pantomime of someone who had obviously never actually used the object she was mimicking.

“You mean the lawnmower?” I asked.

“Yes,” she repeated, “Thomas have run over that flower with the lawnmower.”

“Ohhhhhhh,” was my reply.

Then she continued, “I am not worried. It will grow next year.” She almost sounded apologetic.

All my aspirations of moral nobility flew out the window. Quickly, before bringing the conversation to a close, I comforted myself with the knowledge that clearly she was not upset with the destruction of her flower bush. And there was no real reason for me to take the blame if her son-in-law, whom surely she had forgiven very easily, already had. No harm, no foul, I told myself.

“Well, okay then. Well, I see you are on your way somewhere, so don’t let me hold you up. I’ll just finish parking my car.” A bit of a clumsy thing to say, but I was suddenly in a hurry to get inside. With another smile and a slight shoulder shrug, Hannah walked to her Volkswagen, wicker grocery basket in arm.

I remain positive that I was prepared to own up to my blunder. I also remain positive that in the state in which I encountered that evil plant, it would have tried to kill me before I killed it.
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