Monday, April 5, 2010

Guest Week: All About Phil’s Yard

It’s Guest Week at Watching the World Wake Up. The Watcher Family is in Mexico this week, so 3 regular readers are filling in for me while I’m away. Today Phil O. blogs about his yard, tomorrow Kevin Vigor blogs about the universe, and Wednesday and Thursday* SkiBikeJunkie brings us a Yeast Tour-de-Force.

*There’s no Friday post. Blog traffic is always light Fridays and weekends. These guys went to a lot of work to do this for me; I’m giving them the high-traffic days.

Remember 2 things while I’m away: First, our other brother, Ray, is staying at the house. He brought that damn dog of his along again, so be careful if you stop by the house unannounced this week. Second, I get back late Sunday night, then embark Monday AM on another trip- the 2nd of 3 this month- so posting will continue to be sporadic.

Today’s Guest-Poster is- as perceptive longtime readers may have already discerned- my little brother*. He’s like me except that a) he’s nicer, more interesting and more fun- seriously, if you’re going to invite one of us to a party, pick him b) his eyesight sucks. The guy is like blind as a bat, and c) he’s not an OCD-outdoorhead.

*Have you noticed that when an older brother introduces a younger brother, he refers to him as his “little brother”, but when the younger brother introduces himself, he uses the term “younger brother?”

The Post

Hi all. It’s an honor to be asked to guest-post at Watching the World Wake Up. I’ve been following this blog since its inception several years ago, and while I’ll admit to only understanding 30% of it, that’s more than I understand about Lost over a similar period of time.* I look forward to new posts to learn more about the world around me, see cool helmet-cam videos, and of course check to see if I’m referenced in any tangents. Over the course of my life, I’ve learned many things from the Watcher, like how to perform basic maintenance on a 10-speed, how to interview successfully for a job, and how to be a new Dad who stays in the good graces of a new Mom (short version: get up at night when the baby cries). Reading Watching the World Wake Up gives me the chance to continue my education.

*Seriously, she hits her head and forgets how to speak English? Didn’t our collective ability to suspend disbelief for that kind of thing go out with Anna Anderson and/or every season of General Hospital?

Watcher Phil cut Before I go much further, I should introduce myself. Yes, I am the Watcher’s younger, better-looking brother. It’s true. However, if you imply that I got this guest-hosting job through some sort of nepotism a la Robert F. Kennedy or Kim Jong Il, I want to assure you that this was purely a merit-based appointment, like Melissa Rivers or Liz Cheney. If you maintain otherwise, I will sue you for libel in Singapore.

You’ve learned a lot about the Watcher over the years. He lives in the West, he’s a fiercely competitive biker, he works in sales, he has an Awesome Wife and a flock of good-looking children. He also has a keen interest in and understanding of the natural world around him. Week 20-21 037I’m just like him, except I haven’t gotten on a bike since 1992,* I live in the suburbs of a large northeastern city (not the one in the photo – the other one), and I detest sales reps. I do, however, have my own Awesome Wife – an attorney who specializes in affordable housing – and we have our own Alpha Baby, a girl born last October. I currently keep busy with work, which takes me to Canada far too often (not that I mind – it’s a pretty nice place), and with school, pursuing my MBA part-time (I have a slightly higher tolerance for school than some members of my family).

*I biked a lot from 1987-1990. I probably have gotten on a bike once or twice since 1992, but only in a limited sense; I definitely haven’t ridden two consecutive days since 1991. As a teenager, I did some serious biking, participating in summer trips down the entire West coast (Seattle to San Diego), for example. I was in good shape and I made some great friendships (Mike Rock, where are you now?) and developed crushes on several good-looking athletic women (whom I periodically stalk nowadays – thank you, Facebook). I really enjoyed biking. But I figured out pretty quickly that a car gave a high school boy a huge advantage when it came to dating. Basically, girls did not want to get picked-up by guys on bikes, or guys whose parents were driving the car to the movie theater. So long, bike.

Unfortunately for devoted readers of this blog, I can’t add to my brother’s significant expertise in the natural world around us. If I wanted to focus on things in which I have expertise, I’d be writing about obscure 1970s bands, obscure 19th-century Presidents, or eras of English history most Americans have never heard of. But I don’t want to lose all of the Watcher’s loyal readers in one fell swoop. Instead, as a relatively new suburban homeowner, I thought I’d talk about the principle way in which most suburbanites interact with nature: in their yards.

The Watcher and I grew up in New England, but like my brother, I moved away after college. I lived first in New York City, and then – after tricking my Philadelphia-raised girlfriend into marrying me – in central California, home of Steinbeck and K-Fed, south of Fresno and north of the most depressing place on earth, which is a good topic for a future guest post (if I ever get the opportunity, and I am not too busy being a highly sought-after guest-blogger on other popular blogs). Finally, in 2008 we decided to move back to New England, and bought a small Cape on a half-acre of land in a charming town of ~30,000.

My House Now, the nice thing about my house – apparent from the photo here – is that we border on a large area of protected woodland. In fact, I’m not really sure where my property line ends, although if you bushwhack a hundred yards or so, you will hit a well-traveled trail, so I’m assuming it ends before that. (If it doesn’t, I should setup a little tollbooth to help pay my property taxes). There are a lot of nice things about bordering on the woods, including:

- Great scenery in all year round (see photos from various seasons)

- No neighbors peering into our house at night (well, at least we hope not)

- Easy, relatively green-friendly way to get rid of yard waste (leaves, weeds, etc.)

- Occasional glimpses of wildlife (rabbits, deer)

PhilYard There are downsides, too:

- While leaf disposal is easy, we get an extra large share of leaves dropped on the lawn each fall

- The woods are regularly encroaching on the yard and need near-constant taming – vines, branches, plenty of weeds, etc.

- Those glimpses of deer aren’t without inconveniences. Minor inconvenience: cleaning-up occasional deer scat. Major inconvenience: contracting Lyme disease less than a month after moving in, after a day spent valiantly clearly six-foot high weeds next to the garage. (Fear not, gentle reader, for I was cured after my first trip to the ER in 20+ years and a round of antibiotics).

Finally, and this has been on my mind the last few days, we’ve got a small stream running underground in the wooded part of our yard; it’s mainly noticeable in the spring. But after a deluge like the two that have hit the northeast in the last month (see these photos from a nearby town, although our town was not quite as badly affected), the stream turns into a pond that starts to swallow-up our lawn. The pond recedes once the rain stops, but it looks as if it is slowly sinking the back third of our yard, something I’m reminded of each time I mow the lawn. Last summer, after a spate of similar rains, a soft spot in the lawn swallowed-up half of my leg one sunny day; I’ll step more carefully this spring.

The yard is one thing; I worry more about our house. Our house was built in the 1950s, and – unusual for these parts –it was built on a slab. That’s right: no basement. A slab has some pros and cons. Pro: It keeps the house cooler in the summer. Con: It keeps the house cooler in the winter, too. Con: I miss the storage space. Pro: It never floods – a big deal in a month like this past one. That’s nice, but according to an elderly neighbor, the reason our house was built on a slab was because the original builder (50+ years ago) couldn’t figure out how to dig a foundation and still keep the water out (even under normal conditions). Now, the builder may just not have been too adept – as far as I can tell, all of my neighbors have basements – or he may not have wanted to deal with seasonal flooding. But when it rains like this, I do get to wondering what’s flowing underground, and whether it’s “hollowing-out” beneath our little Cape on a slab. If it rains enough, will the house sink into the ground like my old high school, old Seattle, or the cities and statues in that planet full of ape-men?

Anyway, this is all leading up to me realizing that, as a suburbanite with a house and a yard, I tend to view the local ecosystem as both a source of beauty – green lawns, tall trees, leaves changing in the fall, cute bunnies on my lawn - but more often as a threat and a nuisance: flooding, ticks, deer poop, etc. This is probably the standard suburbanite paradox: We want to be out of the cities so we can get “fresh” air for ourselves and our families, away from traffic and sun-blocking buildings, but we don’t want to be so far away that we can’t easily get pizza delivered, too. We want green “natural” lawns (although of course they’re totally unnatural) but we also want to be within driving distance of Lowes or Home Depot so we can buy fertilizer and weed-killer. Finally, given our commutes and dual-career families, we don’t actually spend much time in those yards. They are basically ornamental. But how many ornaments require so much work? (“The tragedy of your times, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want.”)

Well, all of this makes me realize that it’s time to get out and start cleaning-up the yard while my daughter is napping.

AlphaBaby Before I wrap-up, I want to thank the Watcher for temporarily handing the reins to me today. While I know my entry is only about 0.00001% as educational or interesting as a standard Watcher post, it’s flattering to be allowed to participate in this great series. Thank you, Watcher. It’s a little like growing up under the same roof, when he lent me his motorcycle jacket, his collection of 60s LPs, or his Epiphone guitar, all of which I eventually sold and did not share the profits with him. Watcher, I can finally say: I’m sorry. If you want the Gibson IV bass guitar I bought in 1989 and haven’t played since 1991 and haven’t sold despite my wife’s repeated entreaties, just let me know.

*Another valuable lesson from high school: Owning a bass guitar, regardless of one’s ability to play, is a great way to get asked to join local bands. Even as an adult, every Tom, Dick, and Harry has an electric guitar or a drum set; far fewer have bass guitars.

SPECIAL WATCHER NOTE: Really? My brown motorcycle jacket? I have been looking for that thing for like 20 years…


Ski Bike Junkie said...

Nice work, Phil. Glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks he tricked his wife into marrying him and then proceeded to drag her around the country.

Your travels to Canada remind me of a time one of my Canadian former colleagues came to the US for some meetings. At the first meeting, he starts pulling these pint bottles of brown liquid out of his bag and passing them around. Everyone got all excited thinking it was Canadian whiskey. Turned out to be maple syrup.

KanyonKris said...

Good post, Phil. With that intro I feel we're acquainted.

I don't try to understand LOST, I just have fun going along for the ride. Yeah, that "bonked on the head now can't speak English" plot-enabler was pretty lame.

For the record, I really liked the 1st and 2nd seasons, then it got weird, but they pulled it back together for this (final) season and the previous season.

Man, they're really trying to transition LOST viewers over to V, but V doesn't do it for me.

Lyme Disease? Yikes. You downplay it, but I imagine that was not a good time.

Kevin Vigor said...

I envy yer backyard. I do no envy yer 'sinking into the muck' concerns.

// and maple syrup beats Canadian 'whiskey' any day.

Phil O. said...

Thanks for the responses, everyone.

@Ski Bike Junkie -- I'm with Kevin on this; my sweet tooth overrides my "alcohol" tooth... although the TSA has made it a lot more inconvenient to bring Canada's finest back to the US.

@KanyonKris -- I can't get sold on the new "V" either. The old one, as cheesy as it is, is still the "V" I grew up with. (I think the Watcher grew up with "Lost In Space"... ha!).

Lyme disease = terrible headaches, weird rash. Led to antibiotics, some strong painkillers and a spinal tap. And I was cured! Mission accomplished!

Ski Bike Junkie said...

Kevin and Phil, I'm with you on maple syrup over whiskey. I just happened to be in the minority.

Enel said...

The best part about moving to Arizona was zero lawn mowing.

My wife wanted some grass for the kids, so we got some....made out of plastic.

I'm all for letting the place go feral given the choice.

Nice to meet you Phil.

KristenT said...

Great post, Phil!

Re: Brothers: I have one older and two younger brothers; I routinely refer to them as "my big brother" "my younger brother" and "my little brother" (even though he's taller than me). It's the only way to distinguish which one I'm talking about.

Re: Suburban houses built in the 50's: at least your house wasn't built on an old orchard and the developers didn't take out all the stumps, or dig out the root systems. We've got a nice sinkhole under our house. We're tearing the house down and starting over.

Re: Suburban lawns: because of those nicely rotting stumps and root systems, we also have underground water movement. During winter and spring, the lower third of our lawn is mushy with hidden standing water. The land trends downhill but we never have any running water. It's a pain to mow, sure.

We also get our share of wildlife, including deer and coyotes. Boy, does that get exciting!

Phil O. said...

@KristenT -- Thanks!

I can safely say that if we had coyotes in our backyard, my wife would have put the house on the market (yes, I know they aren't threats to humans...)

As for sinkholes -- I have no idea what the builder did back in the 1950s in terms of clearing the land... now you're making me nervous. Might be time to invite my elderly neighbor over for a meal and test his memory!

Elizabeth O said...

Nice post Phil! Where are my 45s? And as for "Lost," I'm only able to follow thanks to all the Star Trek time travel episodes Watcher forced me to watch as a kid.

xoxo Little & Younger sister