I am neck-deep in the publishing process for the fourth Carding novel, Lights in Water, Dancing so I thought this would be a good time to revisit a couple of my favorite Chronicles.
I know that you gardeners among the group will appreciate the memories stirred up by Lydie Talbot’s time with a trowel. And for those of you who don’t garden, please feel free to indulge in the time-honored tradition of appreciative watching.
Lydie Talbot glared at the dry-as-a-bone sky as she finished her morning cup of tea. Dry, dry, dry, dry—she couldn’t remember such a dry summer.
Like every other gardener in Carding, she yearned to hear the drip-drip-drip of rain from her roof. Everyone felt the unnaturalness of it. Even the kids racing around on the beach at Half Moon Lake were unsettled by the summer’s aridity.
Lydie leaned forward to rest her elbows on her porch railing, and inspected the browning patches in the lawn that her late husband Tom laid down so long ago. Lydie respected grass, that master of persistence, but she couldn’t abide lawns, and she’d tussled with Tom over the sod he wanted to put in front of their house.
“What sense does it make to grow something just so you can cut so it can grow again?” she’d asked.
While her Tom had been many things—kind and funny and handy—her man was not a gardener, and try as he might, he never understood his wife’s objection to his vision of a green expanse. “What’s the sense of planting gardens. Seems to me that all you do is weed them and worry over them and tend them just so you can cut them back in the fall so they can grow again?” he’d asked her in return.
The truth of the matter was, Lydie finally realized, that Tom wanted to buy a lawn tractor from his friend Elmore Tennyson, and he knew he couldn’t justify it unless they had a lawn. So after a lot of backing-and-forthing, they’d finally compromised on a his-and-hers package—Tom got a lawn to mow in front of their cottage on Beach Road while Lydie reigned in the backyard over squash, six colors of iris, tomatoes, bee balm, daffodils, beans, and anything else she could coax from the soil.
After Tom died, Lydie treated his lawn as some sort of shrine to her beloved, and even learned how to drive it so she could keep the greenery just the way Tom liked it. But after half a decade of mowing, Lydie started chipping away at the edges of Tom’s lawn, planting garden phlox close to the house, and orange day lilies by the road.
But the mix of intentional grass and flower beds wasn’t working for her any more. Lydie’s hands and hips just weren’t what they used to be, and she found her gardening forays shortened by joints plagued by arthritis. She now resented the perpetual stooping and squatting and kneeling made necessary by the grass’s insistence on growing where it was not wanted.
So after she finished her gardening chores in the fall, Lydie took stock of her options, and decided that come spring, the grass had to go.
As her daughters Hillary and Amy pointed out, it was always what she’d wanted to do anyway.
The Big Green Removal Project, as her kids dubbed it, started with stockpiling newspapers in her garage over the winter, Then in early spring, Lydie took delivery of 75 bales of hay from Lee Tennyson, stacking them “just-so” along the edge of her driveway where they formed a shoulder-height wall. As soon as predictions of snow or freezing rain disappeared from the weather forecast on Dirt Road Radio, Lydie slipped into her favorite gardening boots, and started killing grass.
“It’s educational, in a way,” she’d explained to her friend Edie Wolfe. “I keep finding stuff that I never read in the newspapers as I lay them out. Or stuff I meant to cut out but never did.”
Edie Wolfe smiled. She’d always enjoyed Lydie’s perspective on life. “Doesn’t all that reading slow you down?”
Lydie nodded. “Yeah. But I’ve discovered the news loses a lot of its sting when you read it after it’s happened. I think the lapse of time gives you perspective on what’s important and what’s not. I still think the comics and the crossword puzzle are the best parts.”
But Lydie’s plans had been made before the rain goddess decided to withhold her gift of water from the Vermont soil, and her method of killing grass—covering it with a four-ply layer of newspaper over which she piled a thick layer of hay—needed water to achieve its maximum effect. Without rain, she was just creating a dust bowl.
Hence her hesitation.
She sighed, and opted to hold off on her second cup of tea until later. Grabbing her clippers, she marched to the furthest reaches of Tom’s lawn to a small peninsula under a stand of boxelders next to the brook that marked the western edge of her property.
The seasonal streamlet had long since shrunk to a wet ribbon but thanks to the dense shade of the trees, the peninsula had an entirely different ecosystem than the greater lawn. In spring, jacks-in-the-pulpit pushed their hooded heads up among the dead leaves along with painted trilliums and coltsfoot.
Lydie began to clip around the trees, dropping unwanted grass into a bucket by her side. She inched along, taking close note of the number of earthworms that silently glided out of the ground, and occasionally swatting at a gnat determined to land on her nose. She smoothed her hand over a thick patch of moss, and acknowledged the “chip-chip-chip” of a brown creeper that thought Lydie was too close to its nest.
The sun rose higher, and the small air current that had cooled her face stopped. Lydie rocked back on her heels then leaned forward to clip just a little more.
Finally, Lydie stopped at the edge of her disappearing lawn to spend time admiring the dusky pink of the Joe Pye weed that she’d nurtured in the wettest places on the edge of Tom’s lawn for so many years. She had a great admiration for plants that other gardeners called weeds, their tenacity in the face of human ignorance. In her opinion, there was far more to learn from weeds than the most delicate rose.
She eased herself down on a large stump left behind by an ash, and turned to look at her progress. By her back-of-the-envelope thinking, Lydie was about halfway to her goal of total lawn elimination. Even though she’d never voice it, she often wondered if she was being disloyal to her husband by taking away his beloved grass.
Sniffing loudly, she stared up at the hard, dry sky. “I hope you understand,” she whispered, “because I don’t.” Then she blinked, shook her head, and then blinked again, forcing herself to breathe slowly in and out, in and out. Over time, her grief had softened into a persistent ache which Lydie figured was better than the take-your-breath-away pain of the first year.
But it never went away. And neither, she realized, did Tom.
Off in the distance, a chipmunk chattered, a pair of robins swooped over the hay wall, and the earth turned one more notch on his trip around the sun.
You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted,Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018. And yes, it will be available on Amazon.com.
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If you would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.