Holy snowmelt, Batman! It doesn’t look a lot like spring in Neihart, Montana, but it does in other sections of the state. Sigh. Everyone thinks spring is such a great thing; all about butterflies and flowers and rainbows and such, but in the Bustling Burg of Babbling Brooks, its all about slush, mud, cold, grey and interminable days. And for this little landscaper, spring means work down in the flatlands, even when in the mountains we’re still sleepy. Today I took delivery on my tractor-trailer load of plants, and then I started panning out across the big city, primping and cleaning up gardens, just as though I was a working person. And by that I mean a working person who expects to get paid for her work. I’ve been working and working and working all winter long, but only on things I paid other people to do, which they didn’t. Of course taking delivery on my plant order is only step one, because even in the Big City the average date of the last frost isn’t for a few weeks yet, and I can’t plant until the threat of frost is passed, but step one is just as depressing as step one can be, for it only heralds step two, which is followed, inevitably by step three, four and the rest. Ad infinitum.
Actually, I don’t mind the hard work of the landscaping business at all – what I mind is the way it ties up all my time. I’m old enough to know that I require a certain amount of down-time in order to function properly, much like pizza dough; you have to let it rest or it won’t rise properly. If I’ve had the requisite number of hours spent lolling about, reading books and vaguely contemplating the ever-growing depth of dust-bunnies collecting in the corners of my life, when the time comes to shovel manure, by gum, shit will be shoveled! I can tote that barge and lift that bale with the best of them, but it isn’t Wheaties that are required to get me moving, it’s a particular amount of quiescence. This winter I got a barely sufficient supply of quiescence, but, I’m sorry to say, sufficient it was. Barely. I started off my landscaping season with a bang, but not, perhaps, the good kind of bang.
They say the three most important elements about real estate are location, location and location, and had they thought about it, they’d say the three most important elements about landscaping are tools, space in the pick up and a love of dirt. Realtors are a lot more succinct than we are; not to mention richer. What I mean to say is that on my first stride into the landscaping season, I lacked two of the three most important elements. All I had with me was an abiding love of dirt. I brought in a load of good organic bison poop, so my pick-up was full and unable to accommodate the plants, which had to be unloaded from the semi and carried to a safe area, then the manure had to be unloaded at various job sites, then the plants had to be loaded, which meant that there was no room for the low-hanging branches at the museum I’d cut off with my chain saw, which I propitiously happened to have with me, and then I didn’t have a tarp with me to carry away the detritus of winter, nor the loppers with which to prune the lesser limbs… oh, you get the picture. I could spend a solid week just getting ready to plant, when all I have are a few stray afternoons.
So the bang of my start left me sort of unfulfilled in an indefinite sort of way. I didn’t get a lot done, and a saw a lot to do, and then remembered that I won’t be able to do it until the next happenstance day or afternoon off, when it could well be snowing, raining or suffering a plague of locusts. I guess what was really bothering me was that I had to attend to my good friend Perle’s garden for probably the last time. She was ninety-something when she passed on this winter. I’m surely going to miss her annual, pert observation that since her eyesight was failing I was only to plant BIG and BRIGHT flowers, so she could see them. She was partial to State Fair Zinnias, so I’ll plant them this year for her daughter from California, but it won’t be the same. The daughter – who sports a shock of white hair at the front of her (left) part just like Morticia from the Addam’s Family, which I would pay good money for, just so I could look like my dog Allie – had me take out those ugly old Mugho pines which Perle loved because she had planted them two millennia ago. They were sick and ugly, and it was a good thing to get rid of them, but still, it wasn’t just the chainsaw dust and smoke in my eyes that were making me cry as I took them out. I’m going to miss Perle, with her avante-garde-for-the-fifties house, her smelter-cast-off planters and her backyard pool, filled with frozen, drowned squirrels each spring. Just like I’m still missing Tillie, who made it to 84, with a Camel cigarette in her mouth, a brandy ditch in her hand and her middle finger raised to the camera. The old broads of Montana had a special something and I’m honored to see them go. Honored to have seen them at all. They were here when the west was wild, and they put wild in my west, for which I’m eternally grateful.