Saturday, October 15, 2011

Reverting to wild

First came apartments, one to two bedrooms with inescapable views of major streets, intersections and multi-floored buildings, followed by duplexes and yards that needed to be maintained. Like most urban denizens we moved around with blithe frequency, playing the rent game as others do the stock market. We went where rent was low and amenities high and transferred loyalties and addresses when the two reversed. New lodging was stimulating; moving wasn’t.

Our first house was an opportunity for improvisation. Indoors, outdoors, we could remake it to whatever our dreams and finances would allow. After a few years of improvements the housing market collapsed and the neighborhood went to seed. We barely broke even when we finally managed to escape.

The American Dream is about upward mobility. We found a house on the edge of a 600-acre rectangle of wild land complete with two small ponds and unbroken views of the Front Range. For a long time I thought it paradise until civilization encroached, and then fought years for its preservation. Shortly after winning the battle we grew weary of urban life and ditched it for a small Kansas town on the northern edge of the Flint Hills.

It’s always the same. A change of scenery invokes a chance at reinventing oneself, or at least a reappraisal of priorities. But we had done the unthinkable this time, walking away from careers and family and the Rockies in a complete and utter repudiation of all we’d known. Friends thought us nuts, family thought us insane. Looking back on the past 11 years I’m unsure how much reinvention was engineered versus simple acceptance of our new reality. Our only plans were to see where the current took us.

How odd, then, to have a mental panoply of former abodes march through a weary mind on a sweltering mid-August afternoon, as if the current had broken me against a midstream boulder, dazed, bleeding and not quite certain how I arrived at such a destination. 

Nor am I certain what triggered the flashback. One heartbeat I was following the mower down yet another long row of overgrown grass and the next I was hopscotching down memory lane, and none too happy about it. The memories did nothing but complicate a ridiculously simple procedure without providing enlightenment or stamina. Instead, I caught myself comparing yards, vistas and that ineffable concept of place, which might have been the whole point, I suppose.

If there was a planned trajectory in the type of neighborhood we gravitated toward—a dubious proposal at best, but interesting to contemplate—it was from the inside out. Meaning, a life closer to careers and interests within the established metropolitan core in exchange for suburban commutes with more open space and elbow room. The same theory applies to housing; while apartments were fine for starters, eventually we wanted volume both within and without. We wanted a garden and some nice landscaping, preferably a mountain view and fresher air. A commute however brutal seemed a small price to pay.

Each was more spacious, more scenic, more accommodating to our growing need for solitude. In that respect, the leap from Front Range to tallgrass prairie was logical, if not belated.

But it wasn’t just solitude we craved, it was a sense of the wild. Not wilderness per se but a place where man and nature coexisted, where wildness began at the end of the porch. After covenant-controlled neighborhoods where every facet of landscaping and decor was regulated and enforced, we yearned for unfettered freedom.

Which comes at its own price, I might add. The place we found was all we’d asked for and more—more being the key word. Our two-acre spread on the edge of town is indeed wild and getting wilder all the time, mainly through attrition, mine that is, a combination torn rotator cuff and meniscus damage to my right knee and an ocean of grass to tame.

Taming it hasn’t been easy this year. While much of the state burns to dust our area has received copious, and continuous, rains. A climatologist declared it the “garden spot” of Kansas, an apt description both pastoral and bucolic. She failed to add that gardens require tending. Mowing has been a twice-weekly affair and even then I’m barely keeping up. In fact, I’ve taken to cutting corners, literally, leaving slices and borders and edges uncut to save time and effort. Six inches here, three feet there, our yard reverts to the wild. The effect has been as startling as it has been rapid: wildness triumphant.

I’m letting it go, and without rancor. We can only do so much, and anyway this is what we always wanted, even if it was never put into so many words. 

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