Lessons In Lawn Care

The secret about summer in Seattle is that from July 4 to the start of school it doesn’t rain. I did not appreciate this fact until I bought a house that had a lawn that needed taking care of. Suddenly I was like a farmer, pondering the summer sky, wondering if it was time to break out the sprinkler and the hose. I like a green lawn, and I will suffer the water bill to have it so.

This was not always the case. In those first years in the house I had acquired a kind of fatalism about the lawn. The spring rains would finally cease, and a mere two weeks of cloudless skies would bake the lawn brown. I was powerless. I had heard of watering your lawn, but who really believed such things actually worked? God had withdrawn his creative waters, and our world must descend into dust and dry grass.

The third summer in our house my family came to visit. It was my sister who, upon seeing the utter desolation of my brown yard, remarked, “Jeez.”

“There’s nothing you can do,” I said. “It just won’t rain.”

“Well, you could try watering it.”

So naïve. And yet to humor her, I dug up a sprinkler and tried her out. I ran it every day during their weeklong visit. I would sit on my back stoop and watch the shower I had summoned. The sun was too hot, the sprinkler too small. But still I watched it. What difference was there between this water and that which fell from the sky? Would it not flow as long as I left the spigot open? I sat and I waited with the patience I had learned at my writing desk.

The day they left I noticed the first green shoots within the carpet of brown. A month later, I wheeled my lawn mower from the shed. Life, it seemed, had been waiting for my attention all along.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Behind The Rain

I am told that in dreams water usually means strong emotion. As a writer, this makes sense to me. In stories, and particularly in films, water is a sure sign that our characters have reached a moment of emotional release. How many romantic comedies have ended with our hero (or sometimes heroine) racing through the rain to reach his (or her) beloved? How many “I love yous” have been confessed through rain-streaked lips?

It just works, doesn’t it? However, add thunder and lightening and the rain becomes a threat. Now we find ourselves in the emotional storm, buffeted by winds, cowed by sudden, heavenly crashing. If you put a character in a storm, he or she is in trouble. If you put that same character in a lighted house by a fire while a storm thunders outside, he or she may be safe, but trouble rattles at the windows.

It is probably futile to try to write against these tropes. Rain alone is a bit more flexible, as it can also mean boredom to the child home alone, or irritation to the businessman ducking into the laundromat—but it’s going to mean something. Pity the sun so taken for granted. If no weather is mentioned, it is more or less sunny. Wind at least means change.

The sun will perhaps always be taken for granted because it is that against which change and action is written. As Einstein said, darkness does not actually exist; it is merely the absence of light. I think of this sometimes when I am with friends suffering in their own darkness, or raging in their own storms. You don’t have to look hard, no matter how black their mental night, to see the sun within them. I know this seems Pollyanna to some, but when someone begins ranting about a hurt that will never heal, I feel as if I am listening to a child who has stepped out into the rain for the first time, and cries because the sun has been taken from the sky.

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Let It Rain

I live in Seattle, where apparently there is not going to be a spring this year. Between winter and summer we are being treated to a damp, spongy period I will call Spronge. Spronge is fantastic for lawns but not so good for picnics. Very good for writing, however. Not much to tempt you from your desk, and all that rain and all those sodden trees can put you in contact with a very productive gloom.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one to romanticize despair. But warm rain has a very particular effect on me, and perhaps gloom is not precisely the right word. Persistent rain, for which Seattle is so rightly famous, reminds me of all that over which I have no power. Thus the gloom, I think. Which is to say, I must harbor some illusions that I am a kind of god, and if I were just skilled enough the world might bend to my will. Yet rain – particularly warm rain, which is so much kinder than winter’s edge-of-snow rain – puts me back in touch with humanty’s reliable limitations.

Exactly where I need to be to write. Hard to hold much wonder for a world you think you can control. Hard also to create characters without their own free will. Yet the more I relinquish this grasp on things I could never hold, the greater command I feel. Our balance is always best maintained when our hands are free, despite the tempting luxury of the handrail – you’ll only cling to it and remain where you are.

There is no freedom in stasis, and what misery to believe you are in charge of the world, how exhausting and impossible. The artist in all of us stands within the world, puny by physical scale, powerless to the smallest mosquito whose death we could engineer but over whose life we haven’t one ounce of authority – yet unburdened by the need to stop the rain, our energy is freed to reveal the limitless designs of imagination. We are large indeed.  There are no walls to hem us but our own desire.

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