A blog about a first-time house owner learning to maintain his backyard, and thoughts about nature, science, history, and life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


That stick isn’t in my yard.  There is only so much ground that I’m charged with taking care of, and where that ground ends is now marked by little pink flags and ribbons left by the surveyor.
My yard isn’t rectangular.  The front of the property is a straight line, and it borders the road.   In the back, the creek forms the boundary.  So, I suppose, when the creek is low, I own just a little bit more land, and when the creek is high, I own just a little bit less.  The dock sits over the creek, of course, so it’s like my own extension of my property floating in the air.  In a way, I’ve circumvented the boundary by using the third dimension.  The creek is in the middle of a bend when it comes alongside my property, which, I think, will be interesting for my contemplation of flash flooding.  Curves cause acceleration, and acceleration causes force.  I worry that this may make the dock especially vulnerable to being washed away.  You can see lots of evidence of scouring in the slope that borders the creek.   My backyard is ever so slowly shrinking.
The sides of my land are marked by the pink flags and ribbons, and though they all form straight lines, they form a bit of a jigsaw puzzle.  The southwest side of the property, apparently, is zig zaggy because of the way the land was bought and sold; my property extends into what should be my neighbor’s backyard.  The northeast side of the property, adjoined by a government building with its own ground, has a little zig where my well is located.
There are also the boundaries between where I live and where nature lives.  There’s the house.  You don’t normally think of a house as a boundary, and the couple of worms that have found their way inside since I moved here certainly haven’t.  Then there is the screened front porch fronted by a worn welcome mat, where equally tired leaves are beginning to accumulate with the changing of the seasons.
There are boundaries within my yard as well.  Most obviously, there’s the fence around the garden.  There’s the edge of the yard, where it meets the wildflowers, the thorny plants, and the bare ground surrounding the trees.  There are boundaries between the wildflowers and the bare ground surrounding the trees.  There are boundaries between tree trunks and the soil.  Between natural and manmade things.
You know, I’m really talking about two types of boundaries.  There are interfaces – like between the lawn and the house, between the fence surrounding the garden and the thorny plants.  But there are also those boundaries without interfaces – like the ones marked by the pink flags - and these are the ones I’ll call boundaries for the rest of the post.  Boundaries are the stuff that maps are made of: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas…  But interfaces are like oil and water.  They can move over time.  The creek swells with rainwater.  The thorny plants grow both inside and outside the garden’s fence.
There are boundaries in time, too.  We’ve recently passed the autumnal equinox – the day when everywhere on Earth sees equal daylight and night – the day when the Sun skirts the horizon at the North and South Poles.  Now my nights are longer than my days, and this will continue for about another six months.  This, of course, affects my ability to manage my lawn, as the sun has nearly set by the time I get home.  
There are also things that happen over longer time periods.  In my yard, it’s the changes in the microhabitats.   The garden didn’t get overgrown overnight.   The patches of wildflowers weren’t always there.  At one point, this land was forest, looking not at all like my current tiny patch of forest, which has been turned into a branch collecting ground.  
And I have to decide how to manage these places going forward.  Do I want to replace the patches of thorny plants with wildflowers?  Right now my property is a bit like a farm, with “crops” in different places: the garden, the wildflowers, the “forest”.  Do I want to maintain that, or do I want something a bit more like the way things would be in nature?
Then there’s the garden.  It’s a fenced-off area not quite in the middle of the yard, but nearer to the house.  I could take the fence out, clear the overgrowth, and replace it with grass.  But then I would have more to mow.  I could leave the fence, clean it up, and put some real kind of garden there.  But I’m not much of a gardener.  So the garden is another kind of boundary - a boundary in my mind, between the parts of my property I can easily imagine how to manage, and the parts that I cannot.  So naturally, the garden is the place where I’ll start my first big project.  Once I figure out what to do with it.
Just as the weeds have grown up along the interface of the garden fence, what I put on the grass works its way down through the soil’s interstices.  I’m not sure whether to use fertilizer, but I’m sure not to use pesticide, because my house uses well water, and the well is on my property.  But even if the well weren’t on my property, I wouldn’t want to use pesticide or fertilizer.  The well draws water from the aquifer under my land.  I don’t want to drink pesticide or fertilizer, and I don’t want anyone else to have to drink pesticide or fertilizer.
The nice thing about my yard’s boundaries is that they simplify things.  If I want, I can take all of the thorny plants out of the wildflower patches, and all of the wildflowers out of the thorny plant patches.  I know that I’m responsible for this stick here, but not that stick there.  I am master of my own domain.

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