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AH! Spring, when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of:
Look, I didn't pick out the seeds, okay?
As you have gathered from the title of this post, yesterday it was time once again to engage in my annual battle against the Forces Of Nature. I do this every couple of years or so, beginning nearly 15 years ago when The Boy and I spent the better part of an afternoon regretting that we had spent a portion of the afternoon deciding to dig up a portion of our yard and plant a vegetable garden that yielded:
which in retrospect was probably a good thing as neither The Boy nor I nor anyone sane likes vegetables and also not a single person in our family with the possible exception of my mother-in-law will eat anything that actually grew in our yard.
WITH GOOD REASON: Our yard, as I have mentioned before, is possibly haunted and is certainly eroded, and I have further proof this year that something is going on because:
And not just any birds. These are haunted birds and, potentially, zombie birds, which is in keeping with the general horrifying-ness of nature and of my yard in particular.
I have always made it clear that I am no fan of "nature," what with its dead things and it's spiders and it's muck and whatnot, which is why it is (a) not surprising to me that this year "nature" is fighting back and (b) completely surprising to me that Mr Bunches IS a fan of nature, especially because not so long ago he was sane, i.e., not a fan of nature, in that he feared bugs.
This is how I learned Mr Bunches feared bugs:
A few years (four)(is that a few?)(no) back, I took Mr Bunches and Mr F to the "splash park," which is the kind of outdoorsy, natural thing I really enjoy: it is a giant cement pad plopped down into a park and covered in large, brightly-colored plastic things that spray water at random intervals. While Mr F was enjoying himself because Mr F has almost complete immunity to extremes of temperature and so he doesn't mind that the water at the splash park is roughly zero degrees Kelvin, Mr Bunches and I were sitting on a bench and resting/trying to restore circulation to our extremities. That was when I noticed a small bug on the plant near us.
"Look," I said to him, pointing to the bug because parents are supposed to encourage kids' interest in things even when those things are gross, "It's a bug." (CERTAIN parents are not as knowledgeable about certain nature things as they should be, which is why certain parents sometimes identify certain nature things in a rather generic way.)
Mr Bunches looked, and grew worried. "Can we go?" he asked, although that may have just been the extreme hypothermia talking.
That attitude has changed, as evidenced by this conversation we had yesterday:
Mr Bunches: Look, Dad, I found a worm! *holds up ACTUAL WORM in his hands and IT IS ALIVE*
Me: Did you? That's great? (SEE AFOREMENTIONED NOTE RE: ENCOURAGEMENT)
Mr Bunches: It's so cute!
But I wasn't talking about cute (?) worms. I was talking about our Yard Of Death and The Birds, which sounds awesome and it kind of is, except for the death part.
Our yard has sort of freaked me out ever since we took down the old rotten shed that was here when we bought the house and learned, in taking the shed down, that it was filled with a family of raccoons, which we kind of suspected given that everytime we saw the family of raccoons knocking over our garbage cans, they would then retreat to the shed, where they lived.
Tearing down the shed led to there being a gaping hole in what scientists call "the yard," because the shed had been sitting (precariously) on cement blocks and dirt, making it even more dangerous than we'd ever suspected (and we had suspected a LOT of danger.) Since then, I have spent the last, I'll say five, years trying to get stuff to grow in that area, which scientists refer to as a "dirt area," with little to no luck.
MOST people would probably attribute the lack of success in growing things in that area to reasons such as "not really trying very hard," and "the only plants I have put in there are plants that I get for a dollar at Wal-Mart," and the fact that the area is heavily shaded by the thirteen quintrillion trees we have around our house that annually drop enough leaves to completely cover the states of North, South, and East Dakota. ("East Dakota" is what Minnesota should be called, to indicate its value to the U.S.)
But I know the truth, and the truth is that the shed most likely served as a cover for some sort of toxic waste dump/Indian burial ground, which seems unlikely in that neither of those things are usually found in suburbia and both are usually larger than 20 square feet, but that's the genius of it, right?
So I have feared for some years that our yard is actually toxic, which is as good an explanation as any for why the garden The Boy and I planted never grew anything, and why Mr Bunches' prior garden, Mr Bunches' Victory Garden, never grew anything. Growing up, I learned a lot about gardening that could also explain why things didn't grow, reasons like:
-- lack of attention to the garden
-- lack of watering the garden in a drought
-- too much watering of the garden when people have hose fights around and in and on top of the garden
-- dogs eating the garden, which actually happened in part one year when my neighbors' dog came over to our yard and bit a small tree in half and took away the top part (the top part being the only part of the tree anyone cares about)
-- that same dog once stole a boot from Mr Bunches. Right off his foot.
But all of those reasons are obviously just Head Fakes Of Science to keep me off the track of the REAL reason, which is poisonous ground, which is what I suspect is going on, although to be fair, I was also taught early on, by those same parents who tried so hard to teach me how to take care of a yard/house/kids/my life, that nature is definitely poisonous and trying to kill you.
My parents, who were big on gardening, did everything they could (without knowing it) to turn me against nature to the point where it's surprising I didn't grow up to become a supervillain, The Paver, dedicated to turning the world into a giant parking lot. They didn't just do that by making me do yardwork, which alone would have been enough, but by passing along these alarming, potentially-true, probably-not-misremembered Facts Of Nature:
1. Rhubarb has poisonous leaves, but we are still going to make the rest of the disgusting-tasting-plant into a pie!
2. Don't eat from the apple tree behind the yard. (No reason given, but presumably because it is poisonous, too, as it's pretty certain that Hartland, Wisconsin, was not originally the Garden of Eden.)
3. Don't eat fish you catch in Hasslinger's pond because there is a toxic waste dump underneath that pond.
4. Don't walk through the swamp. (No reason given but what's a guy to assume, given numbers 1 and 3?)
Which is how I learned that most of nature is poisonous. Also, my mom had a bee allergy that was so severe that simply saying:
around her was enough to make her go running and screaming into the house, which was hilarious but also which was something you only did once, and also, karma being a real thing, is probably why I almost got stung to death by bees a few years back, since my Mom is dead now and the dead have powers like that.
So it's no wonder that I believe Nature is poisonous and out to get me, but I keep getting proof of that, like the DISEMBODIED GIANT BIRD WING I found in our backyard recently.
This is a real thing, and as disgusting as it is mystifying and frightening.
One day, as winter receded in mid-April because we live in Wisconsin, where winter lasts an insanely long time and this year it was longer, Sweetie said:
"I think there's a dead bird in the backyard," but Sweetie is always saying things that don't make sense, like "You have to take the garbage out" or "Where is Mr F?", when I am trying to do something important like play Plants vs. Zombies where my sympathy, truth be told, is with the zombies, who are slightly less fatal/scary than plants.
"There's not a dead bird in the backyard," I told her. And I was right, because it wasn't a whole bird, but just a scarily-large torn off part of one, which I realized when, a week or two later, I was chasing Mr F around the house (not willingly, long story) and I caught him about as he ran past the wing, which is why we stopped and I looked at the wing.
It was about two feet long, I'm not exaggerating, and quite clearly a bird's wing, with feathers and other winglike features. Well, feathers, mostly.
I did what one does in a situation like that: I left it there and went into the front yard, because this was the latest disturbing development in a backyard that so far has had a family of murderous (probably) raccoons and a hive of murderous (nearly) bees, as well as once a fox that walked by which I thought was really cool until a few years later when, walking home from a nearby park, that fox stalked us all the way home, probably thinking (of Mr Bunches and Mr F, who were with me) that it could easily make a meal of them, so I had to pick them both up and carry them, and they were about five years old, and heavy, and didn't want to be carried, but there is NO WAY I am going to risk a fox attack on my kids. That's like Parenting 101:
Parenting 101: Do not put your kids at risk of being carried off by a fox because they will probably be eaten, at worst, and raised feral at best.
So my plan for dealing with the Disembodied Bird Wing was to ignore it and hope it goes away, but other birds had other thoughts, namely, the birds that keep attacking our bedroom windows, which I learned about one morning when I came home from work and Sweetie greeted me with:
"There's a bird attacking our bedroom windows."
It doesn't matter how often Sweetie is right about things like there being a dead bird in our backyard (again: not a complete bird so it doesn't count) or there being a bat in our house (which: she says there was but only she saw it, unless you count the boys, but they didn't pay any attention to it). I can't just let her say crazy things like that and admit they might be true. Marriage doesn't work that way.
So I responded:
"There's not a bird attacking our bedroom windows."
Which means, as you know, that the VERY NEXT MORNING, as I was getting ready for work, a bird attacked our bedroom windows.
This is how the bird attacks. It may be more than one bird. It may be a team of birds, all looking the same, a Seal Team of birds that is serving as an advance elite strike force against us, but we only ever see one at a time, so I'm hoping/praying that it is just one bird, because that I can probably deal with. (SPOILER ALERT!: I CAN OBVIOUSLY NOT DEAL EFFECTIVELY WITH EVEN ONE BIRD.)
The bird attacks by first flying headlong into our window once or twenty times, making a loud bonking sound that sounds, if I am to be precise, like a robin smacking into a bedroom window.
After that initial flurry of activity, the bird gets subtle, flying up and gripping on the screen and pecking at the window a few times before pausing, looking right at any occupants of the room, and then flying away.
That happened the next morning, and since I am a man as well as a great spouse, I went down and told Sweetie:
"You're right. There's a bird attacking our window."
We didn't immediately do anything about the bird, because the best/easiest way to handle anything is to assume it's "a phase," which is a parent-y way of saying "I don't have to make any major changes in my life or even put any real effort into this, because it'll go away." If you tell yourself everything -- potty-training, poor eating habits, watching 14 hours of television a day, bad grades, dating that one person, getting married -- is a phase, parenting is supereasy and kids almost raise themselves. And by the time anyone (e.g., "the authorities") is any the wiser, the kids are 18 and you're no longer legally responsible for them.
I know. Thank me later, parents!
It turns out that the bird was not a phase, though, as we learned by the fact that it's still going on, nearly a month later. But if you know me (you don't, really) then you know that I have a plan to deal with that, and if you know me (id.) you know that the plan probably involves disembodied cat heads.
Ahem. Sort of.
After the birds kept attacking the windows, I hatched a plan to stop the invasion and also to do a little craft project with Mr Bunches and Mr F.
"Let's cut out pictures of cats and put them in the windows," I suggested to Sweetie.
"Will that work?" she asked.
"I don't see why not," I told her. This would probably be a good spot to point out that my sole skill in life is lawyering, which is not so much a skill as it is, well, just talking, talking so much that eventually people get tired of listening to you and award your client some money. Plus you have to own a lot of books.
So when I said that I didn't see why putting pictures of cats in the window wouldn't work to scare away the birds that were trying to get in, I was applying all my skills as a lawyer, not as some sort of scientist or professional bird-scarer, which ought to be a job.
Having come up with that plan, I then put into action Phase 2 of the scheme, which, like all my Phase 2s, consisted of
which, don't knock it: that is often the most important part of any plan. Here's why, using math:
Percentage of plans people think up: 100%
Percentage of plans that are doomed to fail: 99.9%
Percentage of plans that will work: ZERO, because the other 0.1% will involve ideas stolen from you by big corporations which will then sue you for copyright infringement.
By which you can see that every plan, ever, is doomed to amount to nothing, so by doing nothing I am actually beating the odds and also being efficient. It's a wonderful system, and one that Sweetie doesn't believe in, which is why one day I came home and found this
all over our house. That is our kitchen window, and the view from it this morning, and two ugly, mean-looking cats that serve, so far as I can tell, to convince the neighbors to speed up whatever process they are using to get us to be forced to move away.
Also, it didn't work.
Sweetie hung pictures like that on almost every window in the house, and using math I could have predicted that it didn't work, but I could not have predicted that it would actually escalate the problem, which it did, because now the birds are attacking the cats.
Now, most mornings, the Bird Advance Team will start after our windows about 5 a.m., flying into the pictures of the cat heads rapidly and/or perching to peck at them. They are not afraid of the cats, at all. They are angered by them.
None of that has anything to do with Mr Bunches' Traveling Salvation Garden, other than to explain why nature is so horrible and why I want nothing to do with it, which is how, probably I ended up planting yet another garden this year, although the free seeds had something to do with it.
We got the free seeds when we went to the Children's Museum on a field trip a few weeks back. The museum had a little spot on the top floor where you could pet a mouse, and look at a turtle, and get free seeds, all of which seems a little more like zoo/place where plants are kept in captivity (I can't think of the word for such a place. Planetarium? Let's go with that.) Zoo/planetarium. And for a few weeks, Mr Bunches has been bugging me to go plant the seeds, because he is a child and doesn't understand how terrible nature, and work, are, and also he thinks that our last garden was a success, because it grew plants (albeit not the plants we planted) and also, I suspect, because he didn't have to do all the shoveling.
I kept putting Mr Bunches off, not just because: work, but also because I wanted to think of a way that a garden would be more successful this time around, and the only thing I could come up with was "have someone else do the garden in some other yard, preferably a yard where, when you rake the leaves away, you do not uncover a giant, disembodied bird wing."
But eventually, I came up with an idea, and the idea was this: what if we didn't plant the garden in the yard, at all?"
And thus was born the idea for Mr Bunches' Traveling Salvation Garden.
The problem with your modern plants, as I've noted before, is that they have been coddled into softness. When you plant seeds these days, they come with fourteen-step instructions that tell you to do things like place the seeds a certain depth down, a certain width apart, gently cuddle them in a woolen blanket, turn them over every two hours, get them only wooden toys with no lead paint, etc., etc., because for years modern people have been babying their plants.
I do not do that.
My plants undergo what can only be thought of as a gladiatorial experience. Every plant I have in my yard began its life on a parking lot of a megastore like Shopko or Wal-Mart, and spent most of its formative years baking under the sun of those "garden centers," cared for by sullen teenagers who if you met them on the street, you would suspect were laughing at you, probably because they are. MY GOD I HATE TEENAGERS. I'm glad we're wrecking your economy and environment. That'll teach you to be snots.
The result is that my plants are tough. But the seeds that I get from children's museums and/or dollar stores are not tough. They weren't raised by someone like me, someone who'll say "So there's no rain? Tough. I didn't have rain when I was a kid. Plus I had to walk uphill to photosynthesize. BOTH WAYS."
Because I cannot genetically modify seeds (yet! patent pending) I have to coddle, them, too, so Mr Bunches and I began our "garden" the old-fashioned pioneer way: with a set of plastic cups and a knife, the knife being the only household tool I can reliably find these days.
The idea behind the knife was not, as you'd think, to protect us from the Mad Birds of Middleton, but rather was to punch a small hole in the bottom of each plastic cup before we filled it with dirt, so that when we put the dirt in and then watered the plants, there would be some drainage, which I understand is a thing that plants need. SPOILER ALERT: Mr Bunches began trying to play with the knife so I had to put it away and forgot about it until the end, when I discovered that there is no easy way to stab a hole in a plastic cup full of dirt.
We took our cups and our knife outside, where we were joined by a shovel and shirtless Mr F, who wasn't interested in gardening. Mr F only wanted to play with the styrofoam peanuts I keep in the back of my car for him. That is a different story and for once I'm going to resist the temptation to get distracted, because this essay is already 100 pages long. Give or take. But there are a lot of styrofoam peanuts there and sometimes they get out of the car and blow into our neighbors' yards, which is why I never get invited to any of the block parties and they look suspiciously at me when we come around trick-or-treating at the end of the year.
Mr F left us for the comfort of the car, and Mr Bunches and I began by shoveling up some dirt and putting that in a pile on the sidewalk, or "work area," as gardeners probably do not call it.
Mr Bunches immediately demonstrated a direct genetic link to me by filling up one cup and announcing he was all done.
"No," I told him, "We have to fill all the cups."
He looked forlorn. I felt forlorn. But we were committed to gardening because it was that or pick up our mess and either way, we were working, so we might as well create some nature from scratch while we were at it, and if you think of it that way -- creating nature from scratch -- gardening is slightly more fun than it would ordinarily seem.
gardening is doing nature's work for it, as you get bit by bugs.
The fact that "gardening" is a thing people do makes me think that plants are actually intelligent. Rather than fight weeds and grow their roots down into the ground and do whatever it is plants otherwise have to do to survive (something involving pinecones, I'm 57% sure), the plants get us to do it for them, which puts plants on the list of life forms that are far more successful at existing without work than humans.
Lifeforms that somehow get people to do their work for them, in order of success:
2. Little children.
5. Oldest Daughter. (I am not sure how she stays so far up on this list, but she is amazingly successful at this. She's almost plant-like in her ability to get others to do stuff for her.)
It took about 20 minutes to fill the cups with a reasonable amount of dirt. At first, I tried to be "scientific" about it, thinking "I should fill these cups about 3/4 full, with the dirt loosely packed." Then, I remembered that I was sitting on my front walk with a pile of dirt, a shovel, knife, and 20 plastic cups, and a six-year-old: so, the opposite of science, and with that I just put a bunch of dirt in each one.
Next it was time for the seeds. You get a fairly random, weird assortment of seeds from the Children's Museum, the kind of assortment meant, I assume, to teach kids something, although if there was a theme to the set of seeds we got, I couldn't see it. These are the seeds we got:
-- Turnips (2)
-- Flowers of some kind I think Marigolds maybe?
-- Probably some kind of beans, I forgot.
-- "Italian" spinach
The latter of which is clearly some sort of marketing ploy by the people who make spinach, because everyone knows spinach is gross, but that doesn't stop Big Spinach from trying to foist it off on people through a variety of deceptive means, like claiming it is "good for you" or it "tastes like lettuce" or it is "Italian," when none of that is true, at all.
The seeds had directions on the packet for planting them, but those directions were irrelevant not just because of the fact that the Bible tells us that if you spare the rod, you spoil the plant, but also because not one of the directions, I'm sure, said "Put this seed in a cup filled with a random amount of dirt," and so we winged it, and simply took some seeds from each set and put them into a cup -- but only putting one kind of seed in each cup.
Our method was to have me hold the seeds, and Mr Bunches pick some out and put them into the cup.
We would then press them into the dirt or "tickle" the dirt, a word Mr Bunches came up with when I said:
"Mix up the dirt like this, a bit, to get the seeds under it," and I stuck my fingers in and sort of roto-tilled the dirt a bit until the seeds were hidden.
"Tickle it?" asked Mr Bunches, thereby improving our gardening experience by 100%, so I agreed that we would put the seeds in and then tickle the dirt.
Eventually, we were left with this:
A complete set of plants-in-a-cup, which I put onto a cardboard box we had lying around, so that I could move the plants in and out of the sun and/or the garage, as needed. I figured that I didn't want the plants in the house, because they wouldn't get enough sunlight but they would be constantly at risk of being dumped out by Mr F, who doesn't like things in cups--
--really, he doesn't, that's an actual thing he believes: things should not be in cups--
and while I am not a certified plantologist or whatever, I do know that there are two basic needs plants have: sunlight, and not getting dumped out.
So I intended this to be an outdoor traveling garden, but this is still Wisconsin, and even though it's May we've already had three days below 50 degrees, and we could still get snow, because God hates Wisconsin, probably because we gave Aaron Rodgers so much money to play a stupid game, but I figured I might need to move the Traveling Salvation Garden from time to time, so I put it on a box.
If there is another thing plants need, I know, it is water. So I said to Mr Bunches:
"We have to get the garden some water."
To which he replied:
"Let's get the watering can," which was cute because, bless his heart, Mr Bunches is an innocent six-year-old who truly, truly believed that his Dad was in some small fashion prepared to actually do a job right, and because he believed that, he believed, too, that his Dad would have a watering can.
"Um..." his dad responded to him in what is no doubt the latest but not the last in a string of small disappointments his dad will inflict on Mr Bunches "We don't have a watering can."
"We need a watering can," pointed out Mr Bunches and yes, at six he already is a more competent adult than I am, what do you want from me? I am who I am.
"I think we have a bucket," I said, remembering that we had a set of beach toys that we had bought to take to the ocean last year when we went to Florida, only to then forget to take the beach toys with us on vacation which was all right because we also didn't go to the ocean, so everything works out for the best, and I got the bucket out, and we filled it with water from the back porch hose, and started down the walk to the Traveling Salvation Garden, but were intercepted by Mr F, who dumped the water on himself.
That happened twice before I decided that Mr Bunches was not able to fetch a pail of water while Mr F lurked about and so I intervened and we got the water to the Garden:
(That's Mr F, there in the background, hoping to catch a little runoff.)
I got Mr Bunches to dribble a bit of water in each cup, and about two gallons into one cup, which he did on his own, and then I said "OK. Let's go in the backyard."
At which point Mr Bunches looked down and said:
"Where are the plants?"
"They take a while to grow," I said. "Probably a couple of weeks." (I was guessing. For all I knew, the plants would grow that night. Who has any idea what plants do when we're not around?)
"But where are they?" said Mr Bunches, who does not have a firm grasp of time yet, at least not in English. Mr Bunches breaks time into three categories:
1. Right now.
2. "Later," which he already knows means "never." and
3. La manana, which he knows means tomorrow.
(NOTE: If la manana does not mean tomorrow, it doesn't matter. I don't speak Spanish. We use it as tomorrow because saying tomorrow is not a concept that Mr Bunches gets yet. For example, when he is getting ready for bed, sometimes we will say "You've got to get into bed and get to sleep, because you've got kindergarten tomorrow," at which point he will get very alarmed and say
"NO, not kindergarten!" and we have to try to reassure him that he's not going to kindergarten right now, at 9 o'clock at night, but rather in the morning, and one night when I was doing this he said:
"Kindergarten in la manana?"
And I said
"Yes," and he settled right down, so now I use that whenever I want him to know that something is the next day rather than right now or never/later.
So when I told him "a couple of weeks," I might have just as well been talking in French, or making up a nonsense language, because it made no impression on him, as demonstrated by what happened just a few minutes later. As Mr F and I were playing over by the car and getting styrofoam peanuts into people's yards, I looked up and saw Mr Bunches:
"Come on out, plants!" he was saying to them.
And that is where we left the garden, for now: being urged to grow, very directly, by a young man who will not take "no" for an answer... but who will take la manana for an answer.
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