Wednesday, October 29, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (11/13/08)

Meine Überfrau bought a Shop-Vac the other day. Delighted as a child with a new toy, she spent the day vacuuming her studio and the garage, even the rectangular crevasses in the concrete. This was a far cry from the glamorous sophisticate I married more than twenty years ago, who, as a flight attendant in the glory "chateaubriand and champagne" days of TWA first class, flew across the world like most people walked across the street. Not so now. Now, it's Shop-Vac Mamma. Happily, I can eat off the garage floor after having been kicked out of the house for tracking compost on the carpet.

One of SVM'S favorite words is "thoroughly" as in "thoroughly clean," while mine are "slipshod" and "slapdash," preferring the minimal expenditure of energy in an energy crisis. Just enough to get by without doing anything more than is absolutely necessary.

When I was a boy, my parents spoke of "good stock," not so much in relation to cattle or trees, but to people as in "good family." A runner-up was "hard worker."

Gardens require good stock and hard workers, especially at
autumnal clean-up time when Shop-Vacs aren't much use around the backyard. When the air turns crisp, it's hand work and hard labor with the only reward being "thoroughly clean." As SVM likes to say, "Any job done worth doing is worth doing well." The tools are clippers and rakes.

Next comes, "A place for everything, and everything in its place," a kind of horticultural mise en place. On the other hand, I like to file and store things on the floor and vacant table and desk tops. That way I can still see where I left them, no "out of sight, out of mind." In the autumn of the year, with SVM it's not only "thoroughly clean," it's also "put away." I leave out the shovel and the rake so that I don't waste precious energy putting them away and getting them out, like shoes left on the floor. But for the winter's garden, it's stick them all back in their place if you have any, and if you don't, make places. Also, roll up the hoses and store them in the garage.

Now, comes the fun part of autumnal gardening, pulling out the annuals, clipping and shaping the perennials, fighting over pruning the trees, raking up the pine needles left from the last wind storm, storing the pine needles in black plastic bags beside the curb for the guys from Environmental Services, and generally sweeping up debris. Gretchen, a true Teuton, approaches all this cleaning and straightening up with bustle and gusto. When I lag, she remonstrates with a question, "Just what do you want, a skanky yard?"

"Heaven forbid." A skanky yard? So I drag myself, trailing MS. CLEAN, like a school boy trudging his way to school, clipping, raking, getting bits of debris stuck inside my boots, expending precious energy in the name of cleanliness and orderliness.

Then came the disaster. Red/green color blind, I dumped yard debris in the green trash barrel thinking it was brown. Well, the guy from Environmental Services stopped in his tracks, climbed up on his truck, yanked out the offending bag of pine needles, lectured us in front of friend and foe, threatened us with fines, and drove off leaving me with a bag of pine needles and a profound sense of shame. Only in sustainable Flagstaff can the garbage man induce guilt.

Not that I'm paranoid, but I swore I heard tittering in the neighborhood.

The final phase of autumnal gardening is "getting ready" for spring five months ahead. It's mulching plants and trees, turning compost in the soil, spading in blood meal for the onions, raking in bone meal for the daffodils, and seemingly endless chores. Finally, after this busiest of seasons in the garden, snow blanketed the yard with the promise of rest for me as well as the earth.

Alas, in a fin de saison lust for tidiness, Gretchen announced, "You've got just four days to pick up your study before I come in and clean it up thoroughly."

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

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