Love is a Many Splendored Thing: Spring Cleaning

March 12, 2023

My father kept up this property on the hill until he died of a heart attack at seventy-eight. He did it by himself, as far as I know. My mother, confirming the solo maintenance, maintained it killed him, literally. She seemed bitter when she told me that twenty years later. I said maybe it kept his heart ticking longer than it might otherwise have. But what do I know; I’m not a cardiologist. What I do know is it would have killed him to ask for, or pay for, help. Stubborn he was. What I also know is, he loved it. He was a farmer at heart, and this was his Paradise.

My mother was stubborn about much, but she couldn’t do what he did to keep the property from falling to wrack and ruin. She paid for help with some of it, and let a lot of it go. And now there’s me.

I guess I’m too stubborn to ask for help too. Also there is a dearth of funds I’m willing to spend on help for stuff that just has to be done over and over again. Someday my sisters and I will have to pay a landscaper to improve curb appeal in order to showcase the beauty of this piece of paradise when we are ready to sell. But that day isn’t right now; I don’t want to have to keep it looking good. It was lovely when I moved here ten years ago, and since my mother and Dan the Handy Man moved on, I have been an epic failure at anything but the bare minimum—which isn’t nothing.

Funny thing is, I’m more interested in the tasks my mother let go than in what she kept up. Maybe because I feel more competent at keeping trails cleaned out, raking out blackberry vines, picking up branches than I do at maintaining flower beds. It’s hard work, but it doesn’t require a green thumb. I had a lot more interest at my house in Raleigh, but even there I planted stuff, then it was on its own. There it got too hot to work outside. Here I would rather be hiking.

So, the place is a mess. It’s March and I haven’t even ordered seeds for my garden. But I’ve jumped into my pattern of the past couple years of committing (I use the word quixotically) to an hour of work every day that the weather is decent—that is, not overdoing it. And a modest goal of one hour inevitably becomes two or three, vis-à-vis the rule of Just One More Thing (JOMT). I started the rounds this week when I recovered from Covid.

Round One: Fir Cones. (At least from where they interfere with mowing.)

Round Two: Winter’s Bountiful Blowdown. (At least from where it interferes with mowing, i.e. the meadow.)

And I did the preliminary cleaning of autumn’s Anti-Beetlejuice residue off the south facing windows. Well, not the upper ones yet. And if I’m honest, they won’t ever get the second round, and they are nothing like clean, only better. Sometimes that’s good enough for whom it’s for. There are thirty-four windows in this house (each of them, surprisingly, two sided). In the nearly eleven years I’ve been here, most of them have never been washed. Staffing issues.

Round Three: The Garden

I finished cleaning up my garden. I took out the original three boxes, rotted and full of buttercup, two or three years ago and covered the area with plastic. I had a vague plan for replacement, but it’s still covered in plastic. I added several more boxes the summer after those first ones, moving the fence (that needs to be replaced). Last spring I rebuilt one of the newer old boxes. This week I’ll get lumber to replace four others. I’m making them higher now, because I’m ten years older than when I planted the first low-to-the-ground ones, and in an attempt to keep the Buttercup Invasion at bay. I also need to replace the gate, at least partially. (I intended to last summer, but it didn’t happen.)

Speaking of buttercup, what to do with it in the wildflower patch? I should have covered it with black plastic in the fall, and now I don’t have the guts for glory to try to dig it out—a futile task at best anyway. I guess I’ll hoe it up a bit, then see if the latent wildflowers will bully their way through. Otherwise, in the fall, I just might blast it with the nasty stuff (don’t judge me), cover it with plastic, and deal with it next spring. Eventually the buttercup will win the war, but I will live to fight another battle this season.

Following the JOMT rule, after the hour in the garden, I cut a few of the nasty Himalayan blackberry vines (wearing the wrong gloves) that were encroaching from beyond the meadow perimeter . . .

. . . then I walked into the woods on the trail my mother used behind the neighbor’s house. I created a new one departing from the woodlot closer to the house, and last year the old one got overgrown with trailing blackberry vines. There’s a bigleaf maple newly blown over, taking her smaller neighbors with her. Fortunately, my lovely 96-year-old neighbor, who was a college math teacher and still in full charge of his brain, is very hard of hearing; it would scare the crap out of me when these big trees fall in the night. The branches are full of buds that will not become leaves. Nature begins more projects than she can finish.

When I care for this land, I am being nurtured by those who cared for it before me. I feel their presence and their love of land and family. I see the labor of their hands, I feel their exhaustion. As I work, my heart pumps blood connected to them by shared DNA. I will prop up the rotting post that once supported the gate for the fence my father built to hold our horse, Scout, and is a fallen soldier now at the edge of the woodlot of slender Douglas firs my father planted—converting meadow to forest—that I had thinned because he couldn’t stay tethered on earth long enough to do it himself. And I will pick up wheelbarrow loads of branches they dropped in the winter winds, because, unlike my mother did, I want it to look like a park.

As I lay down my own mark here, I miss them.

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18 thoughts on “Love is a Many Splendored Thing: Spring Cleaning

  1. Your story reminds me of a number of stories I heard as a community organizer in North Portland 25 years ago. After hearing those stories, we assembled the resources for a community cleanup, twice each year, Spring and Fall. Aside from providing 30-yard dumpsters in a school parking lot to which any Kenton neighbor could bring the season’s detritus, crews of cheerful University of Portland students were dispatched about the neighborhood to senior resident’s homes in need of structural and yard maintenance. Much was done and the cost was minimal, as it was all volunteers, and Metro provided the dumpsters as a community service. It was a neighborhood-wide party that left everyone joyous and satisfied. After filling a dozen 30-yard dumpsters twice-a-year, one does not want to visualize what the Kenton Neighborhood would have looked like after a few years of neglect.

    For the cost of a few pizzas and a couple six-packs of beer and soft-drinks, your dreams (and possibly, the needs of your 96 year-old neighbor) could be made real. All that is needed is that you invite your extensive circle of friends and admirers to the party to celebrate your father’s life of work on the property! I realize that, for an independent woman such as yourself, that is a tall ask. But, like Schrodinger’s cat, it is one of many possibilities!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My “extensive network of friends” live all over the country. :-/ That’s a lovely community story. In Raleigh, bags of yard waste were picked up at the curb regularly. In the fall, leaves didn’t even have to be bagged, just dumped at the curb. A vacuum came through every neighborhood twice. Fortunately, no leaf raking is on the list here!


      1. And some of us even have power tools, such as saws and chippers, and a truck to haul debris to the recycling center! I even have more than a half-dozen 2″x10″s waiting to be turned into raised beds!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Phew, that tired me out! Such a good hard working body you have, I am full of admiration, and your words and pics told the story well. Picking your spots sounds like the perfect approach. I am ever reluctant but always glad afterward. After the aching subsides. My goal is to keep those weeds from taking over, as they did last summer. A little every day. Maybe. I hope.

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    1. Truth. I don’t mind it so much once I out there. I need to ask my massage therapist why it’s always the left side of my lower back that quickly aches though. And I really need to get a new wheel for my lighter weight wheelbarrow. My dad’s is heavier than crap.

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  3. I love your Spring Cleaning story! You are an amazingly accomplished outdoors woman, as well as a great writer. Kudos to you, my friend. If you’ll recall, I had my own place to keep up not so long ago. Not as large as your piece, but still, a couple of acres. So I know whereof you speak about keeping the place up on your own. And I loved spending the day outside tending to JOMT. It’s impossible not to. Your writing is so evocative and your photos so vividly illustrate the many, many hours of work you put into tending your land. It really took me back. This year, in my new place, I told Phil that I’m going to hire a couple guys from the day-labor group of men standing out front of Home Depot, “just for the day, just for the heavy work” (starting with putting the monstrously heavy cement bench under the horse chestnut tree back together). And when they’ve done that, they can help me clear out many thousands of fallen dead leaves from under the bushes around the house and piles more covering the tender shoots trying to come up in the garden abandoned to the coming winter wreckage last fall. And don’t get me wrong, I love working outside, as you do, but now that I’m in my 70’s, I’ve decided I don’t want to spend so much of my summer on my hands and knees, I want to spend some of those sun-shiny days on the chase lounge reading a book with an ice cold Arnie Palmer with condensation on the tall glass on the table beside me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Of course I recall! Especially the raspberries, and the mole sagas. 🤣 You “new place” isn’t so new anymore! I love reading your words here. Thank you for them. It’s clear you are a writer! I need to visit again. And I want to know howw you like living in your neck of the woods.


  4. Beyond the necessary clean-up I love your idea of a more curated approach to the property. I love that the trails are clear and that you choose that part every year. Your garden in the meadow is also a favorite to experience. Choosing what you give your attention to is the way others who visit can see what is important to you. I never see what hasn’t been done, but rather I notice the cared for places that speak to who you are. 💕

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Is it important that I don’t know what it used to look like? Does “what used to be” ever really inform how we feel today? I get your point. But if it’s true that today is all there is, today I find it a little magical.

        Liked by 1 person

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