As you probably know by now, I am spending my year living in community in Watertown. I live on the top level of a duplex and we have a small back yard. “Yard” is a pretty generous categorization because until last weekend it was completely overgrown; “jungle” would probably be a better description. My mom has always liked gardening and keeping a nice yard and while I was growing up there was a certain expectation that my siblings and I would help with the up-keep. General maintenance was the kid’s responsibility- mowing in the summer, raking leaves in the fall, and spreading mulch in the spring- while the planting and pretty stuff was my mom’s job. My childhood home was on a corner plot in suburban Virginia so we had a good amount of lawn to keep up with, which left me feeling over confident about fixing up my relatively small jungle. Last weekend my housemate Ashley and I walked into the back yard with some rusty garden sheers and a few rakes to begin, what will clearly be the first of many, yard work days.
When we arrived last August we made the calculated decision to fix up the yard in the spring after the winter had time to kill everything for us. So after the snow had melted and before everything started blooming again we set out to divide the weeds from the intentional plants, to reshape the bushes, and to rake up the leftover leaves of last fall. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this yard has probably not been tended to for years, at least three or four in my non-expert opinion. Saplings have taken root wherever they fell and have shot their stalks up to reach sunshine above the canopy that the poplar tree created. Without leaves on the plants yet we were able to move around and start yanking things out of the ground. After three hours and an aggressive fight with a rosebush, we had eight yard waste bags, two massive piles of vines and branches, and what felt like almost no progress.
The yard is drastically unlevel and mostly dirt so even after hours of work it doesn’t seem like much. When left untended for so long the space returned to its most natural and wild state. My time in the yard gave me a chance to reflect on my relationship to the earth and how I can help the small space thrive. There’s a funny line of human involvement in the earth that I’ve been considering over the last few weeks. When we introduce pesticides and chemicals to make the land act the way we want it to we cause serious long term damage, but if we do nothing we end up with a jungle. At what point does our involvement stop being helpful and start being harmful? How much can we change for our own convenience before we’re just being selfish? We are animals and like any living creature we have to make an impact on our environment for our own survival, but as intelligent animals we also have to use self-control. We have to know when to say enough is enough and acknowledge that we have taken more than our fair share. Since today is Earth Day it seems like a fitting time to think about your personal impact on the world and how you can be kinder to the planet. Do you use bottled water and plastic silverware frequently? Would it be so hard to get a reusable water bottle or say no thanks to the plastic straw? Or when was the last time you got your hands in the dirt? It’s safe to say that, in my remaining three and a quarter months living in Watertown, my yard will not be reaching manicured perfection like my neighbors. But the project and the process is enough for me right now. It would be nice if I could reap the long term benefits of the increasing beautification, but leaving my yard better for the next people is at least a step in the right direction.