Posts Tagged ‘yard work’

I am graduating from high school soon. The spring time fever. Everyone is excited for the summer, for their travels onward. The animals perform rites of migration and mating. I watch the sanderlings toddling about getting ready to breed, the soft budding of elk antlers. Soon the trees will fill with nests of loud, hungry babies. This fever is paralleled by hormonal teenagers in pairs; they walk holding hands with ripped jeans and find quiet basements to push their tongues and hips into eachother. Inevitably several girls will get pregnant because the conception roulette was not on their side and they will bring the drama of abortion or teenage motherhood to the hallways. The way I see it, you either pair up like mating birds, group up like herding deer, or end up a loner, like me.

The plants push out bright healthy green shoots, stretching upward and outward. I wonder if I myself will grow at all this year. I stand and look at my reflection with no shirt on. Pretty worthless. Thin arms and a ribcage that expands noticably when I breathe. My hair is dark and messy, sideswept bangs over my forehead. My jeans are black and my converse shoes are scuffed to the point the white is a mottled brown. I picture the several tattoos I plan on getting once I turn 18. Several of them based on artwork I created, some of them based on native art. I imagine the needle dipping in and out of my thin stretched skin around my ribs, taut like a hide drum. Dark ink spreading like an oil spill into the deeper layers of my dermis. I turn away and back to my canvas.

I paint the springtime colors in bold, sure strokes. A cloud temporarily covers the sun, dampening the light coming in through the window. My mother opens the door. “What are you doing?” She asks with a bored inflection. I put my shirt back on. “I’m self-injecting a massive dose of opium into my veins and coordinating an international violent uprising. What are you doing?” She sighs and tells me I have to come help her do some yard work. “Why?” She doesn’t answer me but walks away with the door open. “Shut the door, Janine! The cops could arrest me for all this illegal activity!” I dump the paintbrushes into water and follow after her.

Our yard is ugly. No, wait. The whole neighborhood is ugly. The rain has left muddy puddles all over. The grass in most yards is patchy at best and non-existent at worst. Trash blows in alleys and gathers in huddles around fence corners like gang members on the prowl. A large, shiny black raven sits on a roof gutter and eyes us suspiciously. They act and move like bodyguards, staring from the corners of their eyes, stalking with exaggerated movements, loudly announcing their indignations. I grab a rake and poke at the soggy leaves. I look over at my mother.

She has given up on herself. The man she fell in love with in high school got her pregnant and left her. She found someone else, and he did the same thing. She tried on men like bad sweaters at a thrift store, endlessly trying to find someone to help raise us boys into strapping young men and to keep her company. What she found was a tattered string of abusive relationships. See, a lot of the men here either drink, hit their family, or both. Some academics refer to is as “group cultural trauma.” The oppression of an entire culture, much like the white oppression of native alaskans, will create a ripple effect of oppression in a community. The men have lost their power, so they in turn enforce their power over their wives and children. Or over their livers with a dose of whiskey or twenty. I ponder this as I watch my mom tuck her hair behind her ear and pull the dead iris leaves, jerking them in a backward thrust. “Janine. What are you looking for in a man?” She hates it when I call her by her first name; a sign of disrespect for an elder. Why is it so irresistible for me to do this to her? I of all people know the value of a respectful name. If I was smart, I would look at myself in the mirror, and open the door of my ribcage and look inside. I would find the age-old inherited wounds and poke at them until they bleed. Then I would be able to recognize my own need to assert power and control, cut it out of me, stitch up that hole and start healing. But instead, I poke and prod at anyone and everyone else.



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Yeah, it can be hard sometimes.  But again, that’s what’s great of having so much family nearby.  Calvin spends a lot of time at his Grandmama’s house, and often with his cousins at my brothers and sister’s houses. The weekends are great.  Right now there’s a lot of yardwork, so me and Steph and Calvin spend time in the yard.  As she pulls out the dead flowers and mulches the roses, he and I rake the leaves.  That is, I use the rake and he throws the leaves everywhere, repeating why why why.  We explain why the leaves fall down and why the winter is coming and why it’s important to take care of the yard.  He stops to listen for that minute, and then goes back to making his leaf mess. We wave to the neighbors, one of ’em’s got a kid about Calvin’s age and they shyly look at each other across the street. Steph goes right over and chats for a while.  I wave, but stand my post in the yard. I turn around and watch my son humming and making some sort of costume out of his mom’s garden gloves and the trowel.  I think having a sibling will be good for him.  Shoot, good for us too!  I hope to give him the experience of growing up in a big family like I did.  The preparations for our new little one have already begun; I have started building a rocking chair, Steph is working out finances.  The fall is a good season for us- I’ve got a lot of work, Steph’s job gets busy, so we’ve got good solid income.  And the holidays are always great- Calvin wants to be a pirate for Halloween, so his mama’s putting together a really great little costume. We’ll arrange a trick-or-treat party with his cousins and some of their friends.  From growing up here, me and my brothers remember the best neighborhoods to get the most candy. Our wives give us worried looks to say ‘we don’t need the most candy in our house. Our babies teeth, and your teeth will rot out.’  That’s what holidays are for!
           On normal days, when I’m home from work I love to spend time teaching him things.  He’s only three, but you can tell he’s paying attention.  I’ll fix a shovel or fiddle with my tools in the garage, he’ll just sit on the workbench with his eyes wide open and watch.  I have similar memories of me and Mike, watching my dad.  Sometimes he points and asks why (his favorite question these days).  I’ll explain what I’m doing, and lord if it doesn’t seem like he understands every word.  Even when I say things like two-stroke engine, and fulcrum of the lever…his eyes and ears just kind of soak it up.  Shoot, maybe he’ll be a mechanical genius some day.  Like his uncle Mike for example, he spent more time in dad’s garage than even I did.  As a kid, Mikey took apart the vacuum cleaner to see how it was put together. (Mama didn’t like that one so much.) And for his fifth birthday, he had asked for a real toolset. “Not the plastic toy kind, dad,  a real one!” He got to work right away; his first project was to start sawing off the legs of the dining room table.  (Mama didn’t like that one either.) But Dad was impressed.  He said, “Look here!  I never taught the boy how to use a saw.  He figured that out darn quick!  Smart kid!”  And now Mike works on cars- he’s the best mechanic in town.  He listens to Car Talk on NPR, and when a caller asks a question, Mike will turn down the volume, proclaim the answer, and then turn it back up to hear that he was right on the money.  Smart kid. 

 (Do you hope your son will someday follow in the family business?  Become a roofer like you?)

I’d sure love to teach him everything I know.  But I’ll tell you: I’m awfully grateful to my parents for never pushing a career or anything onto us kids.  We were told we could do whatever made us happy, so long as it put food on the table and didn’t cause trouble with the law.  I will definitely say the same for mine.  Just looking at him laughing in the yard and learning about the world…I sure can’t imagine limiting him in any way.

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(Is that an intentional action, or do you just nor prefer to do yard work when it’s so similar to what you do for a living?)

Both, I guess.  I’m definitely a firm believer in supporting habitat for native and migrating animals.  The best way to create a healthy and natural place for them to eat and find shelter is to maintain indigenous plant and tree life.  Which doesn’t require much work because those are the species that want to live here anyways.  Plus I think the tall grasses and spindly trees and rocky creek beds of this area are beautiful.  Much more so than a perfectly green lawn and symmetrical beds of store-bought flowers and a team of hired labor to come on Sunday mornings and run lawn-mowers and leaf-blowers and edge-trimmers and all that junk.  But I do do a little garden work.  I grow a few tomatoes and lettuce and beans.   It’s nicer to walk out back and grab some of that for dinner than shove my way through the over-bright and over-crowded grocery store stocked with way too much food that people don’t eat.  Like cacao covered juju berries and crap like that for about $40 an ounce.  I’m sure that’s an “essential part of my nutrition.”  Keep me away from all that noise.  That’s another reason I keep my property wild – when I’m finally back from all the racket of the streets and highways, lord knows I don’t need to start raising a ruckus of my own.

(So, do you live far away from where you work?)

Well. Yes.

I love where I live, and I love where I work.  And the only problem is the distance between them.   Most people commute to work, but I’ve been there before, and I can’t stand the thought of being another mindless drone on the road, a part of the endless line of rubber on asphalt.  While driving, I tune out to everything around me, sheltered by the bubble of my car, aware of only my own insular thoughts.  When you’ve driven a route thousands of times, you don’t even have to consciously turn the blinker on for your exit.  And don’t even get me started on single occupancy drivers in their gas-powered tanks.  Talk about waste.  So I swore to myself that I would never do that again.  And now I take the bus to work.  Sure, it adds a lot of time to my commute, but I don’t mind.  The refreshing walk to and from the bus stop.  Saving myself from the hassle of trips to the DMV.  And I even get to sit by the big window and watch the world swirl.  Tree branches melt together with people and bikes and sunshine and clouds in the window, like they were thrown together in a big blender, complete with the sound of rumbling. And then I step off and breath new un-circulated air and head to work; rubber boots on, hat in hand.   At the end of the day, I walk to the stop on the other side of the street.  It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the day.  Most people who take this bus complain that the line doesn’t come often enough, that they are petitioning for more pickup times.  But I enjoy the wait.  There’s a huge cottonwood tree right by the bench, its leaves flutter down to sit next to me.  Birds come and go like tenants in a New York city apartment, and squirrels display acrobatics like monkeys in the tropics.  And trees, well, maybe I have more trees for friends than the average person, but trees just exude a sense of calm and steadfastness that I have come to really appreciate as an antidote to speeding traffic and the impatience of plastic.

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