Sunday, May 28, 2006

Outdoor analogy

I’ve been wanting to ask about this plant. I have one on either side of my front walk, so I believe it was placed there intentionally by the previous owners. I remembered from late last summer that it produced the sweetest little purple flowers, so I let it grow wildly. Then this spring, it looked a bit sad. So I hacked it down mercilessly and left to travel.

I returned to find that the plant had grown to an impressive size and had bloomed. “Oooh, pretty!” I exclaimed, and marveled over my good fortune. I had tried to ruin it – cut it back just weeks ago – but it had adequate strength and the will to grow and become lovely in spite of my efforts. But I recently found myself frowning when thinking about the plant. It grew too fast, right? It must be some sort of weed – something worth having wouldn’t spring to life within weeks and contain so many blooms without having a negative side.

If you remember my love for the question game, I have a confession. Especially when playing with men, I’ll ask “Too fast or too slow?” quite early on. The joy of the question game is that there’s little context – you can think of driving speed, or starting a relationship, learning or teaching style or sex. It’s not defined at all. I always pick too fast. The people I’ve played with - male and female - overwhelmingly choose too slow. Patience, after all, is a virtue. Deliberate actions – making sure everyone is aware of the possible ramifications of certain choices – tend to work out better in the long run, right? Also, whether you’re at work, at play or in love, isn’t it better to take it easy? Put in time, effort, and thought to make sure no huge mistakes are made? Nobody likes weeds.

I had a similar thought – my affection for speed, my great impatience with most aspects of life – when mowing my grass last weekend. For some reason, this part of home ownership didn’t really occur to me. Or rather, it did in some vague way – wouldn’t it be lovely to spend time outside, happily tending my small piece of land? Um, not so much. It’s time-consuming, rather hot, dirty – I’ve come in with bugs in my hair, and my lot is sadly misshapen. Not a neat rectangle – it’s divided (by the house, driveway and fence) into strange shapes that mar the perfection of my neatly placed strips of mowed grass. Unfortunate.

Anyway, for whatever reason, my fenced backyard – it belongs more to Chienne, actually – grows about twice as fast as the front yard. I curse the property sometimes. Being relatively far from the street is lovely when you consider noise and aesthetics, but when mowing useless space, the front yard bothers me. But it remains relatively neat – requiring a bimonthly cut, picking up of random litter, and an annoying tendency to look unkept right around the driveway.

Oh, but the backyard. It could be mowed twice a week, I think. There are small patches of particularly vibrant grasses that grow at incredible speeds. In fact, I have trouble keeping the lawnmower running when making my way through those regions of darker green. I must admit that I did try to fill in some bare spots with additional seed, but wasn’t aware that I had chosen the crazy grow like there’s no tomorrow! variety. So it was with some dread that I returned home after a 2 week absence. I called my parents to get advice after an initial assessment.

“The front isn’t too bad,” I noted, wincing just a bit at the area right around my driveway. “But the back is awful! It looks like untamed jungle out there! Knee-high weeds sprouting up, those nuclear patches are thick and long. The mower’s not going to make it.” I predicted darkly. I pictured the last mowing expedition where I would quickly push into the lengthy grass, the pull back, preferably before the engine would die and I’d have to huff over pushing it back to the patio to restart.

Dad had advice. “Raise the mower deck all the way so it doesn’t have as much grass to deal with. Then you’ll mow today, then again in a couple days after you lower the blade again. Well, you could mow it twice today, but you probably won’t. You’ll be tired. So just raise the mower, mow, then lower the deck and mow again.”

“I understand, Dad.” Then he gave Mom the phone again.

“You could just go slow.” She offered when I complained about the raise/lower - mow/mow again plan. I heard Dad laugh in the background. Going slowly through the yard would require patience and I don’t have much of that.

But I went out in my garage and was only able to move one of the wheels. So the blade was crooked and the other wheel wouldn’t budge. I poured water on it to remove any stray dirt. I nudged at it with my foot (read: kicked). Nothing worked, and impatience won out so I decided to put the first wheel at its original location and go about mowing as much as I could.

The front yard went well, though I did break for rainy weather. Then I moved to the back and sighed with dread yet again. I moved carefully through the initial patch of grass and found that going slow did, in fact, keep the motor running. I frowned in confusion – I didn’t think it’d actually work. Mom is right so very often, I thought with a smile. It seems like I'd learn to listen. So I continued to edge the lawn at a snail’s pace, sometimes nearly stopping in the bad spots.

It’s like dipping your toe in the water, I decided. The very front of the chamber works with the long grass, leaving the remainder of the blade to turn and mulch. So it’s just nudging its way through the grass – no reason to stop completely. I just have to stay slow so that they mower can do its job. Shaking my head in amazement as we (the mower and I) worked our way around the lawn, the grass was cut to a reasonable level, leaving behind piles of mulched material on a neat bed of green. It took time. It was work – physically due to the energy required to push the thing slowly along rather than moving quickly through the yard and emotionally because it’s my nature to hurry through tasks – but not once did the mower die. It chugged happily along, rolling and cutting and mulching.

It’s not really fair, I decided. All these people recognize the value of taking things slow. Patience. And apparently there’s a reason they do so. You’re able to gather enough information – let part of yourself nudge into new areas while the majority lingers in familiar territory and mulches away – integrating what you’re learning with what you already know to be true. Then you can make informed, deliberate choices while I’m already past my second decision and trying to correct mistakes. Perhaps my impatience isn’t so much a character trait as it is a flaw. And I sigh regretfully this time because I’m fond of being impatient. Pushing people and decisions along so we can get something going.

Apparently my plant is the same way. It has a goal. Growing. So it grows, regardless of any obstacle. Apparently it knows my enjoyment of pretty things, because those little purple flowers are saving it. It’s a lush plant and I smile over the purple flowers that peek in over the chair I placed in my front window*. I went out after the afternoon storm to take one last picture and see that yet another plant has sprouted. I’m leaving it alone though – no more cutting down or trying to uproot. Instead, I applaud its quick growth – why go slowly when you can be lush and beautiful now? So maybe impatience isn’t such a curse after all. Good things do come to those who wait, perhaps – I’m not sure on any personal level – I do as little waiting as possible. I like to think good things are here now – you just have to be smart enough to enjoy them.

Or if not smart, then at least impatient. I have therefore decided that, weed or not, I'm fond of the purple-flowered monstrosity in my front yard. It has character. Like me.

*As I don't think I've been silly enough to post house pictures online, I'll take a second to explain this one. The window tucked into the porch is for my office. The window on the right is for the living room, and there's a chair in front of it so I don't have to close my pretty wooden blinds all the time. I'm very aware that I have trimming to do, but the lawn actually looks OK right now. Oh, and I just bought my fern and am excessively fond of it too.

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