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Selected Podpieces


This morning I took my coffee, a jelly doughnut from the Hole In One, and a book, and went outside with the dogs to sit on the wooden swing. The weather was perfect for sitting in for the first time in a long time – the temperature 73, the humidity 70%, the wind at 7, and on the far side of the white pine and the red oak, the sky was Cape Cod blue.

I ate the doughnut too fast, and dribbled red jelly on my shirt, and the coffee grew cold when I got engrossed in my book. But after a while the dogs stopped rustling around in the leaves, and I closed the book and sat gazing around the yard.

After six years in this house, I am beginning to be satisfied with my yard. Various oakleaf hydrangeas and arrowwood viburnums and American hollies are tall enough now that I can’t see the street or much of the neighboring houses. The gardens have steadily expanded outward, until most of what was lawn is now growing ferns and cranesbill and sedges and berry-bearing shrubs. And this summer, for the first time, the Virginia magnolia surprised me not just once but several times with pure white sweet-smelling blossoms.

Wilderness, I have read, is gone. There’s not a spot on earth that hasn’t been affected by the activities of human beings. The sky is a highway; the ocean is a vast sea of tiny plastic particles. And the earth, the places we live and walk and sit around, is all changed utterly.

The last remnants of real wilderness may be gone, but I like to think my yard here on the Cape is one of the last best places for wild nature. Among the grasses I don’t mow and the bushes that bear sour fruit and the damp spaces under the indoor-outdoor rug there are birds and chipmunks and snakes and salamanders and spiders and bumble bees and rabbits and frogs. It’s like a tiny little planet for them, a wilderness smaller than the National Seashore but larger than Whoville’s speck of dust. And though they have to deal with their old ancestral enemies, the predators and the cold and the rain and the drought – and, sometimes, the sole of a giant shoe – they are unmolested by plastic or chemicals or flying machines.

We had our gutters cleaned a few weeks ago, and the young man who did the ladder-climbing was utterly charmed by what he found in them. “You had a little tree growing!” he said. “And there was a frog living there!” I gave him a check for a large but not exorbitant amount of money, and as he signed the receipt he said, “I’ve never seen a yard with so much life in it.”

I was delighted. “That’s the idea,” I said.

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