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Space Odyssey

Assembling a patio out of random-shaped stones is actually not that much more difficult than putting together a jigsaw puzzle made of 500-pound pieces. And did I mention the heat yet? If not, this might be a good time. The climate that offered so many vegetative possibilities is not conducive, I discovered, to lifting large slabs of flagstone and setting them in place, only to discover that they don't fit.

When I tried to remove my T-shirt, I often would pull the collar over my head and find that the rest of the shirt was now detached, still stuck to my body.

A small patio under an old wisteria
A small patio under an old wisteria
A small patio under an old wisteria offers privacy in the far corner of the author's yard. (Tom Toles)

But a patio emerged, as did the beginnings of a garden. And slowly, the reluctant facts on the ground began to bear a vague resemblance to the vision of beauty in my imagination.

After a year and a half, I felt enough beauty had been achieved to finally invite some people over. You meet a lot of people when you move to a new city, and a party, in my opinion, is always a good idea.

It was spring, and now was when the warmth of Washington's weather would deliver. We sent out our invitations and then noticed a small item in the paper. The night of our party would mark, to the minute, the 17-year point for the periodical cicadas, which would blacken the air with shrieking mayhem, cover every surface, living and non, and crunch into a three-inch-deep writhing paste underfoot.

We considered our options. We decided to call it a cicada party. As the date drew near, another consideration emerged. It might rain. The tent we rented actually looked okay, set up, aside from the fitting part. It extended over the property line. On both sides. "Honey, did you remember to invite the neighbors?"

And one other thing. It might be cold. Wait a minute. This development seemed altogether unfair, and contrary to the theme of this story at that. But like any self-respecting plot line can tell you, theme can also come to the rescue.

We would Build a Fire.

The night arrived, as did the guests. A hundred and fifty of them. Our guest list-making was as impractical as our garden-making. They all fit, but only because the perspective trick I used in the garden made them all seem smaller and farther away.

The rain was a no-show, as were the cicadas. We found two under a stone and invited them. The garden looked ravishing in the lights under the tent. The wisteria dripped with purple clusters of flowers. The arbor was smothered with miniature pink roses. The curving beds overflowed with every spring bulb and summer perennial that miraculously all bloomed at the same time. Hors d'oeuvres and champagne were served by garden gnomes. Real ones.

Okay, I exaggerate. But the garden, in a more modest way, did look nice, and the small fire in the brass fire pit was just enough to take the slight chill from the mid-May evening.

And of course I relearned what I had already discovered in Buffalo, that what makes a warm garden are the friends who are in it.

The raccoon, the panda and the snakehead in the garage clinked their glasses in agreement.

Tom Toles is The Post's editorial cartoonist.


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