Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Smelling the roses

Now that there's real warmth in the Pennsylvania sun I've been feeling very energetic and Larry and I have taken to becoming stonemasons of sorts. What's more, for the first time ever I worked on Easter Sunday; under Larry's supervision--well he has an excuse to take things easy for another few days--I carted fieldstone over from another part of the property to the front of our house where we created stone flowerbeds.

I should explain that a lot of Pennsylvania fieldstone--more precisely Bucks County fieldstone--is a type of slate with beautifully flat surfaces and comes in a rich red color, all of which makes it ideal for building houses, boundary walls and flower beds. As one drives through Bucks, one encounters walls bordering pastures that go all the way back to the days of the Penn's Purchase, the period when William Penn bought thousands of acres from the native Indians and then sold or granted the land to other European immigrants from the Netherlands, Germany, England, etc.

This week I'm still busy apprenticing as a mason. In addition, flower beds need filling so I'm also busy wheeling barrows and barrows of loamy soil and chucking it inside these newly created spaces. Thankfully we had the good sense to put in shrubs--assorted types of spirea because the deer don't like those--when we first moved into the house a few years ago so the planting aspect of the project is not too onerous. Last night we went out to a garden center and bought lots of annuals which I'm really looking forward to planting.

There's something primal, affirming and satisfying about driving one's naked hands into the soft soil, digging it out and inserting a brightly colored flower into it. It's also a tad weird for me to enjoy doing this now because I despised this sort of work when I was an adolescent because my father made me do it and as a result I swore never to garden when I became a man. I also swore to live in a city.

Throughout my twenties and early thirties I assiduously avoided gardens and plants--except for indoor rubber and spider plants--and never noticed the advent of spring because I was far too busy bar-hopping and clubbing at places in Berlin and London like Metropol, Knast, Heaven and the Copa Cabana and experiencing the sorts of things that need to be experienced in order to get them out of one's system and move on without later regret that I'm told can eventually fester to acute bitterness in one's seventies and eighties, etc. For me too, I guess my new love of creating flowerbeds and growing things is related to choice and issues of control: Then, I had no choice; now I choose to do it.

What was truly astonishing was the gigantic sense of satisfaction I got when I stood back and looked for the first time at the new flowerbeds alongside Larry. I felt quiet joy at having helped to create this piece of rustic beauty, something that will endure long after we've moved to another place. (I hope New Yorkers don't buy the house because, much as I love their energy, many of the ones who move out here are like locusts and immediately alter, even obliterate, already gorgeous landscaping in some misguided desire to insinuate their peronalities on the property.) As my eyes bounced off the crannies and nooks in the stones, I felt the same kind of joy I felt when my publisher first handed me a copy of A Son Called Gabriel as a bound book ready to be shipped off to the bookstores. Simple experiences make life so worthwhile.

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