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Mown for the Holidays

November 17, 2009

This weekend I made a big push toward getting ready for Thanksgiving. I mowed the lawn.

Copyright by Margaret Dwyer and licensed for reuse under this Creative commons License

The back 40 (feet, that is, overlooking the creek). I only prune poison ivy back here.

I do some of the usual stuff as well. To my family and friends, it is no news that I am once again re-arranging furniture, because I inherited so much of it from elderly relatives and my parents that some rooms are over-full. I’m working on it. But I also have a large city lot adjacent to a wild stretch of prairie forest along the Sycamore Creek tributary of the Trinity River. I love this aspect of the yard, that’s why I bought it. So this Sunday, I mowed and trimmed the entire yard, something I usually do in two stages, the front and all trimming on one day, the back on the next.

This mowing is so that the yard will be welcoming on the day of the meal, if the weather is warm, whether for simply sitting outside or for taking an impromptu tour of our tarantula colony or a walk to the beach to pick up fossils (our local specialty is ancient sea urchins).

For two decades a group of us have gotten together for Thanksgiving, regardless of our mix-and-match family status: my family (now split into two, after a divorce) and my former across-the-driveway neighbor, Bette, and her children, their spouses (some ex) and children, in-laws (some ex) and various friends who often come along. Ours is an inclusive group, and we revel in the fact that most of us are still friends despite the occasional failure of marriages. The work of staying friends has been an important lesson we have taught our children. We’re not perfect and we have had our share of culinary disasters, but we can all laugh about it and we love getting together for these meals.

Copyright by Margaret Dwyer and licensed for reuse under this Creative commons License

I accidentally took the top off of this bunny nest. No one was harmed, but I had to chase down a couple and stuff them back in.

Après my divorce and nearly three years crammed into an apartment, I bought this house with enough bedrooms for a guest room and an office. It was sound but out-of-date, so I stacked all of my furniture in the front living room and remodeled the kitchen and baths and had a new garage built. I signed the papers on Valentine’s Day, so with the cold weather I tiled and grouted and gradually moved furniture into our bedrooms and then the larger den/living room. When the weather improved, I confronted a tangle of tall grass, thatched weeds, brush, hackberry trees, and several dead fruit trees in the back. The first time I mowed the lawn I uncovered a bunny nest. I cut and dragged, building a huge stack of brush on top of stacked dead tree limbs. Through benign neglect of former owners and renters (notorious for not putting a lot into the landscaping) I had inherited a wonderful blank slate to work with, but I did have to clear out some of Nature’s Economy first. Since friends and family knew about this work, they were excited to schedule the meal here to check out the sweat equity I was pouring into the property.

Copyright by Margaret Dwyer and licensed for reuse under this Creative commons License

Dog proof old ratty chairs can be inviting.

Our first Thanksgiving dinner in this house was on a beautiful warm day. I arranged rooms for different activities, and in the cleaned-up the back yard I placed a couple of inviting old patio chairs next to a small baldcypress. I noticed several times during the afternoon that people would walk out to sit and talk. The yard transformation included the discovery of a gate. I didn’t know the gate was there when I moved in, and didn’t realize I actually owned part of the creek.

I need someplace to toss weeds and cuttings as I work in the garden. Alas, many of my fall tomatoes, demolished by snails, have landed here. Only a couple have come into the house.

Tantalus could have been a gardener, watching his tomatoes ripen as they simultaneously rot from snail incursions. The compost is surrounded by volunteers.

So here’s a non-surprising confession: I am probably better at keeping my lawn mowed than I am at wrangling dust kittens in the house. I don’t have a picture perfect gardening-magazine-yard unless a publication starts up for eclectic naturalists who, via xeriscape and nascent permaculture, want to encourage wildlife, create a beautiful view out each window in the house, and have as many year-round edible plants as possible. Via organic management I have encouraged the native animals to stay here; I love my tarantulas, toads, lizards, snakes, birds, and interesting bugs. As with the furniture, some of the plants and trees I’ve put in didn’t work and had to go, but it’s always interesting and inviting. So when this big group of friends and family appear, I aim at having the outside be as appealing as the indoors. Some years I get lucky when I mow at the end of the season and hit that perfect point when the lawn has almost stopped growing before winter. There’s something about catching it at that stage that keeps it looking good, whereas dragging a power mower over dead and dormant tall turf leaves it kind of scruffy until spring.

I keep plastic bags and clippers near the back door, to send home herbs and produce when friends come to visit. The basil seeded itself all over this year. Mmmmmm!

This year in addition to mowing I did some cleanup in my vegetable gardens on both sides of the driveway in the front yard. I scooped up the temporary compost (where, alas, despite frequent beer garden parties, most of my fall tomatoes have landed, due to the snail attacks at every turn) and added it to the big compost pile in the back. On the day of our dinner I’ll keep clippers handy to trim the oregano and the rosemary for anyone who wants some, and if the frost hasn’t come yet, I’ll invite people wade into the garden to pick peppers or cherry tomatoes, or a big handful of basil for the last pesto of the season.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 4, 2010 4:32 pm

    The pecan article is wonderful. Oddly, it brought back memories of my father. He knew every nut and fruit-bearing tree and bush within a twenty mile radius, as well as where to look for wild asparagus and flowers. His knowledge came from a lifetime of huntin and fishing. One of my parent’s greatest pleasures was to go for a ride in the country, and they’d usually come back with a new harvest that my father gathered along the side of the country roads in Wisconsin.


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