Sunday, November 12, 2006

My back yard

My back yard

Some people think it's a luxury to have a back yard in this urban area. But it can also be a nagging burden.

When I moved from my Jersey City apartment to a house in the Heights about a year ago, one of the things that appealed to me about the new place was the grassy little yard in back, centered around an ancient apple tree. I had visions of gardening, barbecues, and apple pies.

It hasn't quite turned out like that.

The drawback to having a yard is that . . . grass grows. Seems obvious, but I hadn't really thought about that before moving. Within a couple of weeks, though, when I looked out of the kitchen window, I could see my yard slowly turning into what looked like a patch of the New Jersey Meadowlands.

I hadn't mowed a lawn since I was teenager, and the thought of using a noisy, smelly, gasoline-powered contraption to trim my modest plot just seemed too suburban. I saw a rechargeable electric model online and decided to order that. After returning the first mower delivered, which turned out to be defective, and receiving a replacement, I was ready to attack what was starting to look like a lush savannah.

By now, more than a month had passed since we'd moved in, and the grass was about six inches high. Luckily, the mower had a tall-grass setting, but it nevertheless choked a few times as I slowly pushed it through the thick growth, feeling like a farmer harvesting his grain.

I kept hitting little bumps along the way, which I feared might be rocks that would damage the mower. But they turned out to be fallen apples -- not the juicy red mackintoshes I had hoped our tree would produce, but tiny yellow crabapples spotted with wormholes. No pies from these, I realized. I filled a bucket with them before I finished the mowing. The grass wasn't as short as I would have liked, but at least the yard looked tended, tamed and somewhat inviting.

The neighbors' dog thought it looked appealing, too. Within a few days, I began to notice large holes in the lawn beneath the fence that separates our property from theirs. Soon I began to see the dog in the yard, too, chasing the squirrels and cats that often wandered through.

I plugged up the holes with some spare cinderblocks, but the dog kept digging under the fence in other places. After a half dozen complaints, his owner finally put some chain link on the ground along the fence, which kept the dog from digging. Now he just stares longingly at our yard from his perch on the neighbor's second-story deck.

The cats and squirrels still come and go as they please, but that isn't a problem -- except that they keep tripping our backyard motion sensors after dark. (The sensors were installed by the previous owners, who were a bit paranoid.) At odd times, the floodlights will click on, and the backyard will suddenly light up like a miniature nighttime soccer field. I still haven't figured out where the motion sensors are or how to turn them off -- or whether I should. Who knows how many burglars scuttle away like scared roaches every time those lights snap on.

As I write this, it's autumn, and the grass has finally stopped growing, or at least it's slowed down. Apples no longer fall, but the leaves are piling up. I need to buy a rake. Sometimes I think having a back yard is not worth all this trouble.

But then I look out at the yard from the window over the kitchen sink and see that yellow flowers are still blooming along the back fence. And I think, "Here I am, less than a couple of miles from Manhattan, and Mother Nature is flaunting her charms in my back yard." And I feel blessed.

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