Glen Finland is the author of “Next Stop,” a book about the summer she taught her autistic adult son to ride Metro. She lives in Virginia.
“Okay, Mike. Let’s take a walk. I’ll show you where the water runs through my yard when it rains, carving out a fine canyon for the last 25 years. At least, that’s as long as I’ve been here to witness it. We’ll start at the top of the property. My house sits on the lowest point on the street, so everybody’s runoff comes my way, sometimes overflowing and taking itself all the way down the long slope of my lawn to the little creek at the bottom of the yard. Runs all the way to the Potomac.”
Mike is with me this morning. He’s the latest in a long line of landscapers here to fix this problem. Only Mike is different. I was ready for a change. He wants to know about the water. He wants to know where it comes from, what it does once it comes to my yard and where it goes after it cuts its swath.
“Show me the water’s path,” says Mike.
“See the cherry tree? That’s home plate, the ballerina magnolia is first base, the red maple second and the weeper third. We get a gully washer, the water becomes a river between home plate and second.”
The water takes the same path my three boys and six other neighborhood kids used to sled down every winter, whizzing down the once-gentle swale toward the low end of the yard. Sometimes they’d break through the azalea bushes at the edge of the yard and into a drop-off that fed into the little rock-filled creek that made its way to the big river, only a mile away. This was a treacherous victory ride, and the warriors would often limp back up the slope with a bloody nose or a twisted wrist, maybe a chipped tooth, but nothing could keep them from sledding long into the cold evening.
“It was green and lush at first,” I tell Mike. “But there were too many snowy days and too many boys.”
“I can see that,” says Mike.
“So we put in railroad ties along the slope, staggering them three feet apart to break up the toboggan run. Like stairs for giants. It made the boys angry to lose their snow chute, so they moved it to the other side of the house. Over time, they wore that swale down into a cavern, too.”
“Well, water will always find a way. I’m not sure how we’ll solve the erosion problem here, but it sounds like this yard has had quite a life.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Oh, yeah.”
“See those big rocks piled up? We buried our 17-year-old stripedy cat Tom there. One of my boys played taps on his trumpet for the send-off. The next morning, we found a blue jay sitting on the rock, chattering away. He’d been Tom’s nemesis for years.”
“Looks like you may have had a garden once on the middle ground there.”
“Primroses, fat azaleas and the prettiest dogwoods you ever saw. Over there’s the basketball court now covered in poison ivy with bamboo coming over from my neighbor’s yard. I used to attack it with guerrilla warfare at night, chopping away in secrecy. But the poison ivy won out every time.”
“What about that lamppost light in the far corner of the yard? Still work?”
“No, no. Had to let that go, too. I’d put a bench under the lamppost to enjoy the garden at night, but the shadows brought out a daring romantic streak in every teenager around. I was constantly shooing them off. So we moved the bench to the front yard under the streetlight. Problem solved.”
Mike takes a last look around the backyard. “Why are those fence posts still standing there?”
“Lord, Mike. Don’t get me started on that sweet old dog of mine.” Good old Mike has pushed the wrong button.
“You’ve been great, but I’m thinking maybe you should just go find another customer who’s actually ready for a change.”