I spent the first few hours of the first Saturday afternoon in April this year in the yard. Leather gloves breaking in with every familiar back and forth of the rake, I tidied up a fraction of our four-and-a-half acres. I bagged up pine needles and pine cones, dried grasses and dead leaves.
“It looks so green now,” Cam told me. And it does; it looks new. The grasses pop once all the browns are no longer filtering the sun’s rays. Other colors are emerging, too. The dandelions, once plucked for their pesky petals, stay behind for the second year in a row. Their yellow faces dot the landscape and smile back with the shine from the sky. Tiny purple flowers appear like moss, so low to the ground that you have to focus to see them for the earth tones that surround them.
And then there are the corn cactus (cactuses?? cacti??). Their velvety growth spreads–likes hens and chicks, full and soft–with broad leaves that stand in direct contrast to the sharp edges of everything else that grows here: the yucca, the pines, the bricker bushes, the thistles. For their distinction, they are beautiful.
But I know what they become: Hollow stalks of tough green tendrils that sprout yellow flowers in another few months’ time, sometimes six or eight feet from the forest floor. Our acreage turns into a corn cactus field, and then they die, leaving behind brown skeletons that I once heard called Miners’ candles. I’m sure for good reason. They would burn brilliantly. So six feet, eight feet, up I imagine the flames that would lick the bottom branches of the nearby pines and set my mountain oasis to ruin.
I can’t bring myself to let them go wild. Yet with every handful that landed in the lawn and leaf bag beside me this afternoon, I couldn’t help but wonder in these weeds. Remember the way you can turn their leaves over in the middle of the summer and watch the ladybugs nestle in their fleecy feelers. Remember the way the yellow petals pop like ears of silk-shed corn and wave in the wind with a summer salutation. Remember the way even the brown stalks wield weapons for sword-fighting once their waterways have withered.
But I can’t bring myself to let them go wild. I can’t yet see past their poison to their potential. And don’t get me wrong, plenty will grow here this summer. Plenty will let their fullness fly and though I engage in a season-long battle of wills, mine and Mother Nature’s, I have no delusions about who will win. I will continue to fill black bags with brown things and corn cactus (cacuses?? cacti??). And my yard will continue to sprout green, with a rainbow of petals cascading down the hill. We’ll meet somewhere in the middle.