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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Out of the Shadows

When I ruminated about nixing the oak tree behind our house--the one that drops stringy things in May, inchworms in June, acorns in September, leaves in November, December and January, and blocks the sun all summer long--our brother-in-law the tree guy looked at me in horror. “That tree is an umbrella. It keeps the house cool.” Actually, I knew that, and it wasn’t really that tree I was talking about. It was all the trees, and it was a sigh, not to be taken seriously, a momentary aberration caused by the drape of spider webs layered around our house.

Spiders, in case you don’t know it, like shade. They especially like it in autumn, at the corner between our garage and the dining room, under the family room window, around the hose-holders, and most of all along our farmer’s porch to the front door, which we rarely use and therefore don’t pay attention to until visitors arrive and walk into a six-foot web. If we lived in a Victorian we could compete with the Addams Family.

When we purchased our house, my husband and I thought we had died and gone to heaven. Situated on a winding country road, then it was nestled in among hemlocks, surrounded by taller oaks and pines. If you walk a boulder-strewn hundred yards straight back through woods, you reach a swampy tributary to the town reservoir. Living on a cut-through street, the front is noisy, but behind the house, surrounded as we were with greenery and ledge, it was like entering a forest reserve. A few years after we bought it blight attacked the hemlocks and one by one those firs died. If they didn’t fall of their own accord, we had to take them down. This gave us more yard and a pristine view of the neighbor’s three car garage when he built it ten feet from our property line—but the oaks and pines remain. In spite of the ravages of the Wooly Adelgid our back continues to invite us with its peaceful solitude.

The remaining trees though, are always dropping something. Right now it’s the brown papery slivers from the pines accumulating in the driveway that we track into the house--and acorns from the oak that hit off the aluminum gutters like firecrackers. When those are done, the pine cones will start falling. That’s good for a five-dollar-a-bag payment to our daughter who wanders out there when her allowance isn’t cutting it. Then there are the leaves. Tarps and tarps of them. Our daughter and I tag team with my husband. He rakes, we drag, and the numbers are astounding--fifty or sixty trips across the yard, over the ledge and up the hill each fall--to dump them deep in the woods. Sometimes I think we should just let it all go, except I’m afraid we’d be smothered. For years after we moved into our home we loved it so much, we were convinced the only way we’d leave would be in a box. Now we are a little worried that the surrounding property might be the thing that puts us there.

Nothing though, annoys me as much as the spider webs. From the street, our house looks well kept. We mow, we prune, we garden, and we edge, rake and weed, but it’s almost impossible to keep up with the spiders. So what looks good from fifty feet back resembles a scene from Rocky Horror up close, hanging threads of webs, lifting in the breeze. We sweep them, blow them, brush them off with cloths and before long those industrious buggers are back at it. From what I can tell, they don’t sleep. It’s enough to make you want to move to one of those developments where they bulldoze everything before building Stepford homes.

At my most aggravated though, I look out back to the woods, to ancient stone walls that mark our property line, to the roll and sweep of land that looks the way it has for hundreds of years—and realize that we’re a part of something bigger. We can go out beyond the tree line and see the same topography as a hunter from the 17th century, stepping carefully over broken limbs and scores of granite boulders. Hemlocks may go, but other trees will take their place and glacial ledges will forever heave out of the earth where they landed thousands of years ago. Living here makes us an element of history--not disrupters of the earth, but part of it—visitors to an unbroken cycle--participants in an ever repeating sequence. Changing that would just be wrong.

So regardless of how exhausting, we’ll stay here and continue to pick up what Mother Nature drops. I’ll go on aiming the blower at what are probably the zillionth grandchildren-removed from some spider that existed a thousand years ago--though I’ll be sure to hang up the blower sometime in early October. That way when Halloween comes we won’t have to decorate.

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