The yard is a place we visit, but we don’t live there. Perhaps, in summer nights that somehow felt deliciously sinful, we would put out a tent or a sleeping bag “out there,” and try to fully domesticate the ground, the stars, the wind. Quickly, we understand, all of that is beyond understanding, and control. Yet, a yard, thanks to capitalist real estate distribution concepts, is a foreign territory that we think we do control.
Like the famous Mr. Kurtz in Conrad’s story “Heart of Darkness” each time we venture there with at least a small inkling of peril: something has changed. That change, of course, can be a source of joy, but is also a bit unsettling. What other unexpected change will occur next? Will it need a response? How do we capitalize our gains here? Is further investment of time or skill required? Do I need to buy pickling jars, a new trellis, prune the overreaching tree? Do I, like all military or law enforcement entities, need to find more ways to secure the perimeter: plant a new hedge or build a new fence?
At the very essence of the concept of “yard” is the establishment of limit. Mine. Yours. Theirs. We look over the fence or through the knothole in it to determine if we, or those on the other side, measure up. And, of course, at some point, mine, yours, and theirs, never do measure up. Not only because on four sides there are also four more yards to measure up to in a never-ending exponential expanding establishment of exclusion. But because our deepest secret is that we want to go beyond our limits, even as with our greatest determination pound we the new fence posts even deeper.
Most yards are full of something, and we add and tinker with what is there. I guess we do this in part because we know all of this, that we call yard. Even the fence, is going to change and weather, and shift like sand dunes on the beach: we want some level of control over some of that change. Never mind what’s beyond it. We know that developers are hovering out there like jackals frothing to pounce on what is left of our good view.
But that participation, that adding, that tinkering, is where the joy comes from: getting so close to what we are changing, that we, at least in that moment, understand that we are part of the change, not anywise detached from it. We let go, we fully connect, we embody that little portion of the yard, because we are the change of it.
Most of what we like to add or tinker with are living things, although there are rumors of massive flocks of plastic pink flamingoes, fields of artificially colored rock, and entire villages of garden gnomes sprouting up everywhere. I guess what we put in our yard says a lot about us, even the biologically dead, carbon deficiting, chemically toxic lawns tell us that this neighbor is unable to take the risk of coming out of camouflage by ticky tacky. Nothing provides better illusion of control than a semi-living carpet that looks like it will never change.
Douglas Tallamy, a biologist professor at the University of Delaware, and a field researcher who has made a laboratory of his own 15 acres in southern Pennsylvania, has written a book called “Nature’s Best Hope.” There are so many yards, and rest assured the developers will make more out of the remaining arboreal forests, he postulates that if we took the time and the pleasure, well, to change our yards, we could save much of the extant wildlife remaining in the country, in the world. A single oak tree, for example, can foster a living environment for up to 500 species of caterpillar. Forget the butterflies for a moment, those caterpillars are the single most vital protein food for nesting and parenting birds. The list goes on, especially when it comes to pollinator plants. Hundreds of species and thousands of bees can thrive in a few square feet of blossoming plants that are just the right kind: specific native plants, and a strategic implementation of flowering with species that bloom some spring, some summer, some fall. Right now, sadly, as things stand, our yards are our sorrow. Surely, our attempt to keep them the same will create the greatest, the most sorrowful changes of all. As for me, I am changing my yard to hold less sorrow, more trees, and more flowers, more birds and more bees. My yard is now less of my sorrow. I don’t control, but I can assist deeper joys.