Both moving and profound. We may stop and take stock, no matter what section of our life’s journey we are on.
There was no denying it. We had reached that time of the year when the endless struggle between man and nature resumes. From a brief respite, the conflict soon begins again in earnest.
By man and nature, I refer to myself and the garden. I try to put it off as long as I can. My refuge is the autumn that cuts back and halts the endless advance. My kick back time is the winter months that sweep in with a withering and unyielding wind.
But fearfully I watch for any sign of spring. More fearfully, my wife watches for me. She will puncture casual conversation with observational remarks about the grass beginning to grow, the shoots beginning to show. At this point I can still resist, for these are just gradual beginnings. The growth is slow. The change barely registers.
But nature, with its annoyingly natural order of things, begins to speed up.
The remarks come more frequently-the weeds that are sprouting through every concrete crack, those dastardly dandelions that carpet the lawn.
I remark on the beauty of these yellow flowers- the first to give the garden colour this year.
An ominous silence.
Spring begins to herald summer, and the comments become more caustic. The solar lights don’t come on at night because they sit in the shade of the grass. When the kids go out to play we will have to tie a length of rope around their waists so we don’t lose them in the wilderness. They are too young to be trusted with sharp implements such as the machetes they will need to beat a path to the front gate.
Things begin to build and gather pace.
Last year was bitter-sweet. It was the wettest year on record, summer was a washout. Picnic time was limited, but so also was my gardening opportunities. And, if there was ever the danger of a window of opportunity, I employed a bullet point presentation:
the health and safety aspect- you can’t use the lawnmower with wet grass you know, electricity and all that.
the aesthetics: trampling all over the garden after rainfall would soon reduce it to an unsightly mud heap
the sympathy appeal: my postman’s knees were playing up
the wildcard: you look beautiful darling
Somehow I made it to autumn, glorious autumn, in all its marvellous consistency. Let those leaves fall, this is a record-breaking rainfall year you know. It may look untidy, but soon it will be concealed by lovely snow.
But now this year, this weekend. I harbour a secret desire, and keep it close to my heart. It is that I plug in the lawn mower and it does not work. ( And the strimmer went in a skip the year before.)
But I knew that this was a long shot.
I couldn’t do the garden the week before as Jen was in work and I had nobody to watch the kids-yes this came clearly under bullet point no.1: health and safety.
But Jen would be here this weekend, so I would be free to take up the struggle.
To be honest, I wasn’t worried. Not only was this a weekend, it was a bank holiday weekend. An absolute banker when it comes to bad weather. I paid lip service while keeping an eye on the Sky Sports schedule for the next few days.
Then I opened the blinds on Saturday morning.
I closed the blinds and opened them again-still blue sky. The dandelions shone gold in the sun. Cue a desperate suggestion that has hitherto never appeared on my bullet point list before:
why don’t we wait until the dandelions turn into sugars for the kids to blow?
Weak I know, but I was desperate. But then, way out of left field, my wife suggested I could always do it tomorrow as this weather was forecast to last. I snatched her hand off. Sucker-did she not know that this was a bank holiday weekend? No way it would last. Result.
Sunday morning, and the old open blinds routine: blue sky. My heart sank. Resistance was futile, I knew it, the wife knew it, the garden knew it. And besides, the kids wanted to play out. My strategy was reluctantly drawn, the time of commencement agreed. And then-salvation came in the form of visiting family.
Kill the fatted calf. Caffeinate the cups. Let the conversation flow.
It was unimaginable that I would stay out toiling in the sun while we had visitors. That would be just downright bad manners. I drew the conversations out, retraced reminiscing steps over long-covered ground. I got through the day by distraction.
And then- today. I woke up this morning knowing that this would be my last stand. My only hope lay in the weather.
It was sunny. Unbelievably sunny. Not only on a bank holiday weekend, but this-the bank holiday day. On the heels of the worst year on record it was totally unexpected. In resignation I retrieved the mower from where it had hibernated for the last eight months in the shed with the spiders.
I plugged it in, giving the switch a quick squeeze with little hope. Yep- it worked.
The skies were unobscured by cloud. The gate stood firmly shut against visitors. One last check of my mobile- no one was offering an escape route. The long grass danced in great swathes of joy. I turned to see my family at the window watching, my son clutching a football, my daughter all smiles, my wife dreaming of a rockery.
More white knuckled than green fingered, I always knew that I would have to start sometime, it was always a question of how long I could string it out for. And once I did it would grow back faster than ever. Time to pick up the mantle and the secateurs.
How soon the seasons pass. Better get on with it.
Just for future reference, does anyone know a good raindance?