White Pine Memories

The white pine in our back yard was never a beautiful tree. It didn’t provide a nice blanket of shade, only spotty patches. In fact, I always thought it was more a nuisance than anything. It grew tall and disproportionately wide, and dropped hundreds upon hundreds of tiny little pine cones into the grass. The pine cones always seemed to burrow into the lawn, causing a hazard for anyone wandering around the yard barefoot, which I tend to do.

Jack bought two of these trees during the first year we were in our house. We were young, didn’t have a lot of money, and had a brand new baby. The trees were cheap, and he planted one in the front yard and one in the back. They were never pretty, but they helped reduce the vast expanse of nothingness until we could afford to improve the landscaping.

A beautiful maple as well as a flowering crab-apple tree were eventually added to the front yard. I always wished for a prettier, leaf-bearing tree in the back too. For many years, the kids swing set took up the only other available space. Later it was one of those things that was always on the list of home improvements, but forever low on the priority list … until disease struck the lone pine tree. It started showing signs last summer. By this spring, it was good and dead.

This long, Memorial Day weekend provided the opportunity to take the tree down. Jack sawed off as many of the branches as he could and hauled them away late last week. Then on Saturday, he managed the chain saw, cutting notches in just the right places low on the tree trunk. Chesney and I held a rope, guiding and pulling the old tree down into the yard where it wouldn’t fall on the shed, the deck or the house.

It’s never been a secret that I wasn’t a fan of that tree. When it was down, and the clean-up work was finished, Jack asked if I was happy. “Happy” wasn’t exactly what I was feeling. The removal of the tree left a slight emptiness both in the yard and surprisingly, in me.

The tree wasn’t merely a tree. Even though I always thought it was ugly, it had become a part of our days here in this home. It was a refuge to many birds over the years. It was second base for countless numbers of the kids’ wiffle ball games. Lucy circled that tree daily as the squirrels she chased sought refuge high above where she couldn’t reach them and they joyfully taunted her.

It feels strange to see the openness where the tree once stood. Before the summer is gone, I plan to design a fire pit in the place where the stump remains. I have visions of sitting around a bonfire with family and friends, sharing stories and roasting marshmallows. We’ll add new family memories to the wiffle ball memories.

A new tree will eventually be planted elsewhere in the yard. We’ll make a new place for the birds to rest and entertain us with their songs, a new squirrel-chasing track for Lucy, something that years down the road, promises to offer shade.

As so many other things in this life have taught me, the loss of the tree offers yet another example of the ways that life always goes on.

Working the Land (or) If I Ever Quit my Day Job

After twenty-six years in their four-level home that was located just a block away from mine, my parents moved last July to a single-level townhome just a few miles away. We had barely got them settled in when Dad broke his hip in September. By December, following several additional illnesses and complications, Dad was gone from us, and the long winter had arrived.

Understandably, through grief and figuring out a new “us,” there hasn’t been much attention given to making the new place feel like “home.” And as much as the decision to move to from their previous home was Mom’s, she still often says that the townhome still doesn’t feel like home. Too much has changed too quickly. Too much sadness is still fresh in her mind and heart. But we’re going to continue trying to make Mom’s new house a home, as much as is humanly possible.

In the months since Dad’s passing, I’m spending more time than ever with Mom, in part, to make sure she’s not alone for too many hours, and also to help with things she can’t manage by herself. We’ve settled into a routine. Almost daily, I stop by Mom’s after work and on weekends. I often take her to my house to have dinner. Since she isn’t able to get out much on her own, this gives her a needed change of scenery. Sometimes I prepare a meal at her place or we get something to go. It’s mutually beneficial. I know she’s eating a hot meal on a regular basis, and it’s forcing me to cook more regularly, something that had fallen to the wayside especially since our kids have grown up and begun lives of their own.

As a result of so much time together, I’m often noticing and managing things that need doing around Mom’s place. We talk a lot about the projects she wishes to have done to make the townhome feel more homey. The vaulted ceiling and tall white walls are screaming for a splash of colorful decor. She’d like a big clock to hang over the fireplace. There are still boxes upon boxes of framed pictures that haven’t found a home yet. (And with fewer walls than in the old place, many never will.)

The back yard needed work. Generally speaking, it’s a lovely little place where Mom now lives, and her next door neighbor has a gorgeous perennial garden in plain view. But Mom’s back patio needed some attention. The former owner had moved to a nursing home, and the townhome stood vacant for more than a year before my parents took ownership. The landscaping in back had fallen into disrepair. Being so limited in her ability to go anywhere on her own, the backyard is the one outdoor space Mom is really able to enjoy without assistance from someone else.

The back yard is just beyond her sun porch and is where Mom lets her dog hang out at various times throughout the day. A black plastic landscaping border along the cement patio had long since been pulled away. The rocks that had once been enclosed there were now spilling into a patch of dirt and weeds where once there was probably lush, green grass.

“I’d like to have something done with that,” she’s said to me on more than one occasion. I had an idea. We discussed it and I asked if she thought she’d like it.

“If you like it, I’ll like it,” Mom said, giving me the freedom to do as I pleased. So as Mothers Day weekend approached, I enlisted my husband’s help in gathering the necessary supplies. On Friday evening, Jack and I made a trip to the local home improvement store and with his expertise, purchased just the right number of landscaping bricks as well as a roll of weed block. Back at home, we loaded shovels and rakes and a Sawzall into the back of my vehicle.

Saturday morning arrived, warm, sunny and beautiful. Jack went off to work for the day, and I dressed in an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt before making the short trek to Mom’s house. I sat with Mom as the morning sun rose high in the sky and she sipped her morning coffee. Soon my sister arrived, ready to help transform the back yard.

Some of the elderly neighbors were already outside as we began to work. As is their habit, they sat in lawn chairs in front of their own townhomes, watching as I traveled along the side of Mom’s house, from the driveway out front and along to the back, my arms loaded with supplies and tools. My sis and I shoveled what remained of the old rock from our work space. The roots of two large pine trees had crept into the area, and I used the Sawzall to cut the ones that were nestled on the surface of the yard. We dug, we raked, we pruned, and we smoothed the dirt, making the ground level enough for our project.

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The mostly-before view

Next, we figured out a pattern for the landscaping blocks and began to lay them out.

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Once the pattern looked right, we used a level and made adjustments to ensure the new area was as perfect as possible. Then it was off to another home improvement store to purchase more rock. Shopping amongst a sea of others, my sister and I heaved ten bags of rock onto a dolly at the garden center, then once paid for, heaved them off the dolly and into my sister’s vehicle. Then back at Mom’s house, we hauled the heavy bags from the car to the yard, and then put our muscles to the test once more as we cut the bags open and dumped rocks into the new space. (Who needs the gym?)

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Five hours after we’d begun, the space had really begun to take shape. We were tired, sweaty, dirty and smelly and we called it a day. After dinner, with Jack now home from work, I enlisted his help again to purchase and transport a few rolls of sod.

The next day, I requested middle-son Ryker’s help.

“Isn’t it Mothers Day?” he asked, wondering why I was proposing to do manual labor on this day.

“Yep,” I replied.

“Did we get you anything,” he asked sheepishly, clearly assuming his sister would have and should have organized some sort of gift for me.

“Not yet,” I smiled, making it clear that his help was all the gift I needed.

Back at Mom’s house, Ryker tilled the areas of dirt and dead grass, then we worked together in rolling out, cutting and fitting the sod into place. Finally, we mixed some grass seed and soil and spread it around the edges of the sod and into a few remaining small bare areas.

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We stood back and surveyed our work, and we were pretty pleased! We had bought Mom a new outdoor rocker for Mothers Day, so she can sit outside with her dog and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine now and then. A few pots of flowers will come soon to give the space some color. She is ecstatic!

I totally enjoyed the process of planning and creating this little bit of landscaping. And as I think about the work my own yard needs, my mind is now filled with possibilities!