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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Some things are inevitable.  I take a picture to make a point, and my finger gets in the way.  Well, it’s not really in the way, it’s in the upper left hand corner, but it’s a distraction from the point.  After all, a photograph is an attempt to capture a moment.   And of course, it’s inevitable that this was the only picture of this particular moment that I took.  At the same time, it was the only picture of this moment that I could possibly take, and my finger was there.

This blog is about my attempts to manage my backyard. I’ve recently moved into this, my first house. My backyard includes frontage along a creek, a garden, some trees, some wildflowers, and some grass.  There are short trails through the wildflowers, and there’s a set of steps leading to a dock.  My first week in the house was filled with dread – dread of potential accidents like a tree falling on the house, and dread that I might forget parts of the quick lawnmover refresher that my dad had given me right after I moved in.

I bought the house partly because of the property.  The creek is great.  I’m a meteorologist studying flash floods for a living.  With the dock, I have a front row seat to that which I study.  I just have to be careful not to be on the dock if it gets washed away, as the last one did last spring.  I’m not a gardener, and, apparently, neither were the former owners.  It looks like one day someone stopped tending it, leaving its maintenance to the deer and the groundhog, the squirrels and birds.  The wildflowers look nice and make the place feel natural, and the lawn makes me feel like a normal homeowner.

This past Sunday wasn’t my first time mowing the lawn.  But it was the first time I really explored my own property in detail, thinking about how to manage the many microhabitats that it supports.  I went outside to mow the lawn, but first I had to clear the sticks that had fallen in the weekend’s storms.  I also cleared some plants from the fringes of my lawn – thorny plants that cling to my clothes and skin.  I encountered debris and waste left behind by previous owners and began to create my own pile of eyesore on top of some cement blocks on the fringes of the property.

As I was crossing the yard, I noticed an acorn.  It wasn’t really an acorn.  It was a nut that happened to fall from the tree above it, or happened to be left there by one of the many squirrels I’ve seen burying nuts in my yard, especially in the crevices of my stone patio.  And there wasn’t anything inherently interesting about the nut, except that I’d never noticed one in the yard before.   It was a moment…the moment this blog became inevitable.

You know, the Indians who lived on Cape Cod buried baskets of corn in the ground to save for the winter.  The Pilgrims, though they desperately wanted to establish good relations with the Indians, stole some of these baskets to get themselves through their first harsh New England winter.  (This tidbit comes from Nathan Philbrick’s Mayflower.) This blog is to help get through the winter.  Being outside this last month, exploring my backyard, has been therapy for me.  And when winter comes, when the wind is howling and the snow is piling up, I’ll need something to remind me of these warmer days.

Acorn Place is the name of this blog.  There’s also a place called Acorn Place that’s important in my life.  Of course an acorn is a seed, and this is the first post.  So Acorn Place is a node…a thought space where things come together in my mind.  There’s the nut…which I never managed to get a picture of, that’s a symbol among many symbols in a place that I have to frequent often - my backyard…a symbol of that moment when I realized that it would be fun to start taking pictures of little things and big things and sharing them with whoever happened to be interested.  The sticks that get in the way of the lawnmower, the thorns that scrape me as I mow the fringes of the lawn, the junk left behind in the yard that I want to get rid of one way or another.

Suddenly (yet not so suddenly), I began to think about this ongoing process of yard maintenance.  These sticks, pricks, and bricks have their own place in my backyard, and their own tale to tell about nature, about science, about the past and present of this little plot of land.  They may help to keep things looking the way I like them, even if they themselves look out of place.  I began to document things – taking pictures, making mental notes.  I thought about putting together a blog to tell their stories.

I intend to manage my land as thoughtfully as I can, with purpose.  After all, I hate mowing the lawn, and this will give me something to think about as I crisscross the grass, mow after mow.  It will give me something to think about in the frigid winter, when there is no football, no baseball, and anytime I need a little break from what I’m doing.

So finally, five hours after getting ready to mow the lawn, I get no more than five feet into mowing the front lawn, and I encounter a conspicuous pair of sticks that I had completely missed in my stick eradication efforts.  After all, digressions aside, this picture is about inevitability, and this blog is about managing my yard.  And it’s inevitable that if you look hard enough, eventually you’ll get back to what you were looking for…even if you were trying to get rid of it.  Like that part of your finger in the corner of the picture, it’s always there.