I hate to complain, but frankly, it has not been The Most Wonderful Spring Ever here in the Northeast. First of all, it dumped buckets and buckets of snow on us for the first part of it–and then, when that started to seem inappropriate even to the weather gods, it started raining and wouldn’t stop for days on end. Throughout the first two-thirds (yes, TWO-THIRDS) of spring, there have been only a handful of days when the temperature has struggled out of the 50s and 60s, and I think one day it accidentally might have reached 70 degrees before heading back down for a late-season frost that night.

But today–May 21st, the day when the world was actually supposed to be ending–the sun came out and the sky filled up with white, puffy clouds against a backdrop of deep blue, and I was moved to shed my hoodie and sweatpants and actually go outside and survey the yard.

It came to my attention that it’s time to make some deals with the natural world.

Here are my proposals:


My responsibilities: I am willing to buy and plant several species of colorful flowers that the nursery near me calls “annuals,” meaning that they will only grow this one season, and then will die. (Never mind that “annual” seems to imply that they will last a year; they will not. I know this now, and I don’t expect it). I will offer this: a nice soaking in Miracle-Gro before I put them in the ground; I will water their little delicate roots, and I will tuck them into place with mounds of dirt and mulch around them to protect them from whatever they need protection from. During the next few months, I will from time to time water them again from the hose, unless I get too busy and forget. Probably once more during the summer, I will remember to give them another taste of Miracle-Gro.

Nature’s responsibilities: In addition to enough hours of sunlight, I respectfully request that nature takes up the task of giving them the water they need. Would it be too much to ask that they not be allowed to get all passive-aggressive and suicidal in front of me and act like I’ve done some massive wrong to them by trying to provide them with a good home? This hurts my feelings. I mean well, and they should know that. Make them stand up straight and act grateful that they’re not still in those black plastic cartons that only gave them a half-inch of dirt. I would also appreciate it if they could just agree to hang on until the end of the summer without getting all straggly and pale and telegraphing to the world at large that they being mistreated. I will throw in extra weedings and at least one more dose of Miracle-Gro if they could just be grateful.


My responsibilities: I’m sorry. I mean the bug kingdom no harm, but I can assume no responsibilities toward helping out the bugs. STAY OUT OF MY AREA. This means you, carpenter ants, that are every morning marching around in the bathtub before I get into it. If you don’t want to drown when I run the water, get the hell out of the way. And you, ticks, who are determined to make every day a nightmare of searching our bodies for bulls-eye rings, the sign that Lyme disease is slowly working its way through our systems…just go hang out with the deer. (Aren’t you called DEER TICKS?) And don’t even get me started on mosquitoes and gnats. Don’t force me to endlessly chase and swat you by buzzing my ears and landing on my skin.

Nature’s responsibilities: Go away. Go elsewhere. Surely these bugs have lots of other things they could be doing. Remind them.


My responsibilities: First, snakes, I know how much you enjoy that fun game of popping out from between two rocks or from underneath a leaf when I’m outside doing my Once Annual Weeding. I’ve seen you lurking in the shade in a place where my foot was about to step, and watched you masquerade as a stick only to move quickly away when I got near. Ha ha! VERY FUNNY, snakes. And I know that I bring on your presence sometimes myself by being, shall we say, Overly Focused on just where you might be hiding (that time in the garage over by the rakes was a real hoot, wasn’t it?). I also do myself no favors by constantly talking about your scariness to others, swapping stories of your wicked tendencies, and then straining to discern if every single stick might in fact be another one of your brethren. I promise to stop talking about you, searching for you, obsessing about you, maligning you. I hereby admit that you OWN the planet earth and all its grasses and rocks and streams. Take my yard and all the fields, but leave me the house and the little plot of land where I have planted the above-mentioned annuals.

Also, please note that I planted marigolds all around. I read on the internets that you hate marigolds and won’t go where they are planted. I know my planting them may seem unwelcoming and perhaps even a hostile act. I don’t want to enrage you or anything. I just don’t want you to become confused about precisely where the boundaries of our agreement are.

Easy way to remember: Woods=yours. Where there are marigolds=mine.

STAY AWAY. Please. Don’t make me say bad things about you.

I haven’t blogged in so long that I practically had to get out the GPS even to find my way here.

No excuses beyond the usual. I’ve been busy finishing (yet again) my book. Books in manuscript form, as those of you who are writers know, are a lot like boomerangs: they keep showing up, needing just a little tweaking here and some nipping and tucking there, a possible rethinking of Chapter 15, perhaps another comma or two in Chapter 20. I tell you, you could go mad.

And then there’s Comcast. We’ve been having rather a comcastic time of it over here, ever since we fell for their ad about the triple play. (They really should call it the triple threat.) That’s where you can pay next to nothing and get internet, digital cable television, AND phone service all on one bill. Since we already had the cable TV thing and the internet thing going, we decided what the hell. How great would it be to add the telephone to that lineup and save tons o’ bucks!

The phone immediately went crazy. At least ninety percent of the time, we’d find ourselves talking to people on the phone, having a perfectly nice conversation, and then out of nowhere they would start screaming: “WHERE DID YOU GO? I CAN’T HEAR YOU! YOU SOUND LIKE YOU’RE UNDER WATER!” And then they would hang up on us.

So in the last few weeks, Comcast has been here approximately 468 times, which has taken up an unbelievable amount of time in my life. It’s been like a part-time job, scheduling these visits and then living through them. in fact, I visit with Comcast people more than I see my friends these days. They are nice and apologetic individuals, generally of good character but with a certain air of doom and mystification about them.

Because they are generally young, I have to explain to them that once upon a time in America, phones just worked. You picked up the receiver—it was usually black and heavy—and you heard a dial tone. You could make calls by dialing a little wheel with numbers, and those calls always, always went through. You could even hear the person on the other end speaking clearly and loudly in your ear. It was astonishing. True, the phone didn’t go from room to room, and you had to pay for long-distance calls—but it worked every single time.

They look astonished to hear this.

In our time together, these Comcast men have done everything they can think of. They have rewired the house. They have trampled the flower beds. They have jiggled wires and cursed and complained and called on supervisors and higher powers. They have harrumphed and argued—and one hapless guy even tried to talk us into canceling our service. But we have persisted—and since for the last two days nobody has screamed at me for being underwater, I am even willing to go on a little longer.

But—how did I get so off track? This is not a post about books OR Comcast. This is a blog about the secret to life, which happens to be mulch.

While I am following Comcast workers around my yard, I have been pondering yet again my garden.

Unfortunately, I have always been the kind of gardener who would like it so much more if it was an activity you could do from the window. Okay, I am willing, just barely, to go and buy plants at the nursery and then put them into the ground—and I have even been known to water them for a few weeks. But then, alas, I have a personality defect which caused me to lose interest. I think that nature should step in and do the rest.

So my yard always looks like hell by the end of June or so. Flowers are gasping for life, while only the weeds and dandelions run rampant.

This is where black mulch comes in. It was during one of my walks around the yard trailing a white long wire marked Comcast that I suddenly realized I wouldn’t have to weed so much if I bought bags of mulch. DEEP DARK MULCH. I was immediately ecstatic. I would go and buy heaps and heaps of the stuff, and I would place it where the weeds normally grow, and the weeds would not show, and the flowers would hold in their moisture, and life would be grand.

So I spent a whole day weeding, planting and bestowing deliciously black, rich-looking mulch on everything I could find. I have put it everywhere I can think of.

Here is a picture of my mulch. I call this “Mulch with Hostas.”


And this is “Mulch with Petunias”:



I can’t imagine life without it. In fact, the most recent Comcast guy said he’s seeing black mulch everywhere he goes lately.

“You’re out tromping around people’s gardens a lot, are you?” I said.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Lots of people can’t get their phones to work. People tell me their friends yell at them that they sound like they’re under water.”

“Hmmm,” I said.

“But black mulch—” he said. “That’s the wave of the future.”

Wave of the future? It’s the secret of life! At least in the spring.