Sunday, May 03, 2015
Cutting Down The Bushes
Sixteen years ago the house looked like a woman without makeup, a Christmas tree without ornaments, a painting without a frame – lovely, but plain. So I planted. Loropetlum and Indian hawthorne and ligustrum and holly. Lots of holly. Compacta holly. Nellie R. holly. Yopon holly. And, along the eastern wall with four windows that framed the morning sun every day and the rising full moon twelve times a year, burfordi holly. Eighteen burfordi holly.
They arrived in black plastic containers the size of sand buckets and, thrust into holes carefully computed to be exactly the same distance apart, they looked awfully puny. As though plants could have rickets. How they would ever turn into anything that resembled a hedge was beyond me.
As Nature does, though, she stayed on those little holly bushes like a Parris Island drill sergeant and before I knew it they had grown together in a long spiky row, a line of fatigue-clad Marines standing at attention and armed with bayonets. And by the next time I took a good look tiny red berries were poking through the spaces between the stiff curved leaves. That Christmas I clipped enough to circle some candles and spread down the mantle.
The bushes kept growing, oblivious to waves of drought and over-wet winters. They grew as tall as the brick foundation, as tall as the porch. They made a little house around the heat pump. They stayed green all year long reminding me that some things do last. I had them trimmed a couple of times, the rogue sprouts and renegade branches surrendering easily to a few quick slices of the chain saw. Beyond that, though, they did their job in the face of benign neglect.
Neglect, however, is never really benign. Plants and places and people need attention and, eventually the failure to notice, to tend, to make a priority will result in wild overgrowth.
I was sitting in my study the other day, doing my best to pull words from the outer space that is my imagination. I lifted my fingers from the keyboard and pushed my chair away from the desk, turned my head to look out the window. It is what I always do to catch my mental breath, to dust the furniture and sweep the floor of all the thought dust that has collected in my mind.
The flat fields, the open road, the far line of pine trees. The loop of the power line cutting across the clouds. Sometimes a wavy V of geese or a there-and-gone-again streak of hawk. I can see through those panes of glass enough of the world to remind me of how small I am, how small my problems are. I can see enough of life to make me want to fling open my arms, dropping all the valueless trinkets and embracing the magic and mystery of all that is.
Only this time I couldn’t see anything but shiny green leaves and a thin sliver of sky.
While I’d been otherwise occupied, while I’d been encumbered with much doing, while I’d been benignly neglecting the holly, it had grown so high that it blocked the light. I looked around the room. I hadn’t even noticed how dark it was. Hadn’t noticed that I’d had to turn on the overhead light in the middle of the day.
I went outside to take a look. All the way down the side of the house the holly bushes had grown into trees. All four windows were covered with only the head jambs and parts of the very top panes visible. Every single day I had seen that side of the house. Driving home from work, ending a long walk. And I’d never noticed that the light was being driven out. I had adapted to the darkness without even knowing it.
It didn’t take long to make the larger application, to realize that I’d probably done the same thing with figurative darkness. Check. Got it. Now on to getting those bushes trimmed.
Except that it wasn’t so easy. I started looking for someone to trim, prune, cut back, – shoot! – cut down if necessary. I made phone calls, sent emails, asked for referrals. Nobody wanted the job. And that’s when that larger application became more real.
Recognizing the darkness isn’t the real problem. It doesn’t take a lot to realize that you’re spending too much, eating too much, drinking too much. Most of us know ourselves well enough to see when our anger is out of control or our laziness is interfering with our work. The hard part is finding the person inside who is willing to stop the spending, the eating, the drinking, who is willing to take control of the anger and put aside the laziness. The hard part is finding somebody to cut down the bushes.
I think I’ve found somebody. He’s coming in a couple of weeks. I hope I can stand it that long.