Monday, January 13, 2014

*Reclaiming The Front Yard

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published January 16, 2014] © 2014 

I’ve lived in my house for decades but 2013 was the year we reclaimed the front yard. 
Over the years, the front yard had really been the kids’ domain.  We had big trees with rope bridges going between them, tree forts, tents, and plenty of flat play space.  Adults went out there at their own risk.
As they are wont to do, things changed.  Two of the biggest tree fort trees died.  The kids grew up, went away to college, and established lives and families out of town.  Since the grass was actually now going to have a fighting chance, we re-seeded and added sprinklers.  But all this manicured magnificence cost a lot of money for maintenance and water for space that was totally unused.  Like most families, both our private and entertaining lives occurred out back.  La Jolla homes have become nothing if not bastions.
But then some toddler grandchildren came on the scene.  Their folks weren’t too keen about the back yard with its brick patio and pool.   My younger son, Henri, lobbied for some comfy lawn chairs so that the adults (that would be him) could sit outside in the grassy front yard and watch the kids play. 
I was dubious about the chairs.  First, we have no garage to store them when not in use.  They would block the sprinklers and we’d be perennially dealing with patches of dead grass.  The gardening service would hate them. After a few months in the elements, they’d look awful.  But a year ago Christmas, I finally relented and bought two nice lawn chairs that folded up fairly compactly and could be stored on our back porchlet when the kids were not in town. 
As Henri was packing up the chairs at the end of a visit last spring, I told him to leave them in the front yard for a while longer.  I’d been enjoying reading out there and letting our perennially-visiting grand dog have more space to run around.
The chairs never went back.  It was true that the gardeners hated them.  They were heavy and hard for me to move.  Paint did start to peel in places.  Patches of dead grass appeared underneath them.  But I found that the happiest part of my day was going outside with my book and communing with nature in my front yard.  Sometimes I just brought out the book to look like I was reading so I wouldn’t look like the crazy lady who sits in her lawn chair and stares.  You can get a reputation pretty easily in my neighborhood.
Pretty soon, the newly-retired Olof would come out around 5:00 and join me with his Kindle in the other chair.  If the sun were over the yardarm anywhere within three time zones, we might also have a drink.  Living near the beach, we could watch the pelicans flying in formation back and forth along the coast.  We couldn’t quite see the sun sink below the horizon but we had an excellent west-facing view of the beautiful sunset sky. 
It was only a few weeks before we knew every dog within ten blocks and their owners as well.  People would stop on the other side of the three-foot fence and chat with us.  I told Henri over the phone that it felt like a throwback to a time when people sat out on their front porches and waved to the neighbors as they went by.  “Like when you were little,” he said.  “That was the 1930’s,” I replied tersely.  “As I said,” replied Henri.
And then an even more interesting thing happened.  Neighbors, seeing us sitting there with adult beverages in our hands, began showing up with their own.  So there was nothing to do but order more chairs, which we did.  On two occasions, a neighbor showed up with his flamenco guitar, a bottle of Rioja and some Manchego cheese and dazzled us all with an impromptu concert. 
As the days got shorter, the early fall brought crickets (one of my favorite sounds) and spider webs silhouetted against the twilight sky in our trees.  Olof, an engineer, is fascinated by spider webs.  Me, I was rooting for the flies.
The time changed.  Spiders disappeared.  There were now some seriously dead patches in the grass.  Gardeners were getting surly.  We’d pretty much have to be out there by 3:30, a little early even for us, yardarms notwithstanding.  So we brought the chairs in.  But we really miss them.
So maybe the next time we haul them out, they’ll stay out.  Maybe our formerly manicured lawn will just have bald patches.  Maybe we’ll have to give the gardeners a raise.  I wistfully confided to Olof that I wouldn’t mind spending the last day of my life in those chairs. He replied, maybe disarm the sprinklers first.

So thanks, Henri.  Wish we’d thought of this ourselves a lot sooner. 

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