Life in Napa. It has been interesting; drought, earthquake, hail. Hail? Yes, hail. I think somewhere along the line, someone tried to “fool Mother Nature”; (in case you don’t remember the ‘70’s margarine ad).
We had a thunderstorm roll through last Friday evening. I love thunderstorms, really, I do. So much power, so much energy. I’ve been backpacking in thunderstorms, having to take refuge, assuming the “lightning position” on the trail, listening to them from the shelter of my tent, watching dark clouds develop and advance as we hiked purposefully on ahead. I love the thrill, the danger. I mean, seriously, what are the chances of actually being struck by lightning? And dying from it? I know, it happens, but the odds of choking on a marshmallow are far greater. So when the lightning started flashing and the thunder began to roll, I was out on the deck, beer opened, ready to take it all in. I’ve done this before. My son and I once stood on our (covered) porch, when we lived in the country, and took long exposure photographs of an approaching thunderstorm as it moved across the canyon below. It was pure magic. I believe I was drinking beer, then, too.
I sat, on the deck, listened to the thunder, watching the flashes of lightning, but not the forks. I didn’t see any forks of lightning and I especially like the forks. Then it started to rain. I’d straightened my hair that day, and, so, not wanting to be a wimp or a sissy or a girly-girl and flee altogether, I just moved to the redwood table with the patio umbrella over it. That lasted about five minutes, then I went inside. I could hear my hair frizzing.
I was working on a personal project, not a particularly fun one, but one that required a lot of attention. I was upstairs, in my office with the window open. It was beginning to grow dark as evening and dark clouds hastened. I could hear the rain falling, I could smell the damp streets out in front of the house. The breeze was cool and fluttered the lace curtains on my office window. I was in a tank top and the cool wind teased my shoulders, it felt good.
Then the hail started. Hail is fun, it is infrequent enough, here, generally short-lived, and a novel topic of conversation for the next hour or so on social media. “It hailed at my house,” “Did you get hail?” “Oh hail! LOL!” The hail outside grew more intense, enough so that I abandoned my project, momentarily, and took to the window to watch. The street was covered with hail, the lawn was covered with hail, it looked almost like snow. The neighbor, across the street, watched from the shelter of his open garage. He took pictures with his phone. I sat back down and resumed my task. The hail continued, then intensified. I arose, again, to watch, pulling the curtain back to get a broader view. I reached for my phone, took a video, took a picture, took another video, another picture. The neighbor across the street watched, still from his garage, as his wife drove up and parked in the driveway. He helped her out of the car and up the steps to prevent her from falling. It was sweet, but a little pathetic, but I’m being judgmental, who can’t walk on round balls of ice in slick-soled shoes?
The hail intensified and had gone from hail the size of barley to hail the size of peas. Peas and barley sounded good, perhaps I’d make soup. The hail grew heavier and was bouncing off the windows with ferocity. The hail also grew in diameter, now the size of marbles, which I don’t think sounds good in soup, but I am at a loss for a delicious, round, marble-sized food that would go well with peas and barley in soup. I took more pictures and more video, though I’m not sure why, really. Have I looked at them since? Have I shared them with anyone? I take lots of pictures like that, filling my MacBook, iCloud, my Dropbox, Picasa, Flickr, and Photobucket allotments, my external hard drive, my personal cloud, all to capacity, with odd pictures and video. Perhaps I should seek help. So should the neighbor across the street, he’s still got his phone up, aimed outward from the safety of his garage. My mom has joined me at the front window. We go to the back window and observe the accumulation of hail in the backyard. It was beginning to look like a Currier and Ives Christmas card, I expected to hear jingling sleigh-bells, the snort of a prancing horse, and carolers singing a lovely song.
After a while, though the hail was not decreasing in size, or in intensity, I kind of got bored and returned to the relative interestingness of my mundane project.
Forty-two minutes. It hailed for forty-two minutes. The dark of night had edged in completely now, and there wasn’t much to see outside as the hail finally subsided. And I forgot all about it.
Saturday morning! Saturday morning! A day off and with an empty calendar, with no commitments, just a bright, sunny, fresh, rain-washed day. I intended to go paddling, circumnavigate a local lake. Perhaps a short run, too, or a hike! I yanked on the window blind to release it upward and revel in the possibilities a free day and sunshine might hold. And what I observed were all of the neighbors, in pairs, raking, sweeping, shoveling. The onslaught of noise became recognizable, leaf blowers, hundreds of them, for blocks and blocks, the irritating, grating and obnoxious growl and roar of angry leaf blowers. I was momentarily distracted by the thought that so many people had leaf blowers, as they all have gardeners, excuse me, landscape maintenance engineers. Mow, blow and go guys. Ours had come Friday. Friday morning. Before hailagedon. The streets were green with downed leaves. The lawn was completely obscured with green leaves, ripped off the branches of every tree, before they even had the opportunity to express autumn in their bright, festive colors. Inches deep, green leaves. A carpet, covering the street, the sidewalk, the lawn, the driveway, the walkway to the back yard, and the back yard, the whole damn back yard; patio, lawn, deck, walkway, all of it.
Poof. There went my free day.
The gardener, I mean the landscape maintenance engineer, wasn’t due back for a week. And sometimes he skips a week, so maybe two. And to my mom, firmly anchored in her 1960’s era, June Cleaver, suburban lifestyle, considers leaves on the ground an atrocity. Leaves on your lawn, on your patio, even on the street and sidewalk in front of your house, though, technically, city property, are a cause for morbid embarrassment. As though there were some “leaf police” and we would be flogged publicly for “gross leafiness”, or something. We’d have to leave and return under the cloak of darkness, averting our gaze downward if a neighbor strolled past, until all leaf matter had been removed and the tidy curb and gutterness fully restored.
A cool little thunderstorm, some nifty hail. Well, fuck that!
It was a disaster out there, I want FEMA money! But seriously, what about the grapes? We are at mid-harvest, the best grapes are still on the vine, far as I know. You know, the red wine grapes. I tried not to worry, I’ll have to consider stocking up in prior vintages to cover any shortfall this season may bring, what between barrels lost in the earthquake and now grapes in the wrath of hail.
Without a word, I ate my breakfast, did my dishes, grabbed my water bottle and headed for the garage. I gathered various implements of leafstruction and set to work. Me, alone, as the neighbors all worked in pairs. I’m the neighbor who comes and goes, I’m not out front sharing in the gossip and the news like the many that surround us. My mom is one of the “original” neighbors, most homes have since turned over ownership a few times these last forty seven years. I’m one of the “original” neighborhood kids, now middle-aged, having grown up, left town, gone to school, career, married, kids, empty nest, and now mid-divorce. I may be sensitive, or paranoid, or a touch vain in believing I am an oft discussed anomaly amongst the gang of elders in the ‘hood. Traveling often for work and pleasure, working from home the rest of the time. Absent the whole story, I wonder what they think of me. But it doesn’t matter. Right now, I’m out front industriously raking, sweeping, shoveling. I make piles of leaves on the lawn, on the sidewalk, on the porch, on the driveway. I scoop them up and dump them in a trash barrel. I wave hello and make conversation with neighbors in passing. And I haul the trash barrel, barrel after barrel, to the creek in the backyard and spill them over the side; the “mulch pile”, though we never actually use the mulch. We buy mulch in plastic bags from the garden store. After several barrels, with it nearing eighty degrees out, I desperately want to quaff a beer, but, again, especially with the din our recycle barrel makes on trash day, I abstain from consuming alcohol in the front yard, in plain and obvious view. In broad daylight. Alone. Drinking alone, in daylight, is not much unlike spying certain, nocturnal, forest creatures, wandering the streets in broad daylight; rabid or sick or something. And the racket our recycle bin makes I’m sure does not go unnoticed, I’m sure our conspicuously noisy recycle bin is one of those topics of neighborly whisperings. But, really, perhaps our recycle bin is filled with mayonnaise jars. Perhaps I just eat lots of mayonnaise. Who’s to say all that shattering glass tumbling into the recycle truck at the crack of dawn every Thursday morning is wine and beer bottles? I don’t eat much mayonnaise, in truth, the jar of mayo I buy usually expires before I’ve had two spoonfuls. It’s all beer and wine bottles, and I really want to drain one right now. Enthusiastically.
I finished the front yard and the walkway to the backyard in about an hour and a half. I was hopeful that the backyard would go as quickly and there could be some daylight left to enjoy some frivolous adventure or another. Once through the gate, in the relative privacy of the side yard, I pass the side garage door, the “man door”, I duck in. My refrigerator is in the garage, and in it, a jar of mayo, likely near expiration, some organic carrots and quite a lot of beer. I was a bit overzealous in my purchases this week and have, potentially, a few weeks’ worth of brew on hand, all different varieties. I bought different varieties of variety packs. I likely have 27 different varieties of beer in my fridge. And crusty mayonnaise, and carrots.
The next door neighbors are now in the back yard, both of them, raking the leaves off their miniscule, artificial lawn. Sweeping leaves off their demure deck. Blowing leaves into cute little piles with their leaf blower. Rake, blow, rake, rake, rake, blow. Done. Five minutes. I kept my beer on a table in the side yard and ducked just below the top of the fence to take thirsty gulps, lest I be observed partaking of alcohol, in broad daylight, outdoors, by myself.
I surveyed our backyard, easily three or four times the size of the neighbors on either side of us. There is a creek in the backyard, with lots of oak trees. Pin oaks, I think they’re called, with the merciless, thorny leaves that stick in the bottom of your bare feet when you venture onto the deck, the patio, the lawn, the walkways, the garden paths. These trees, by the way, an “evergreen”, meaning not deciduous, meaning, they don’t, or aren’t supposed to, drop leaves with the approach of winter. They do, but they remain leafy and green. It’s magic, tree fucking magic. As I look at the expanse of our yard, the large yard I was so grateful to have as a child, I am reminded of a story I heard for the first time, from my mom, just last week. She told me we had originally selected the lot next door for our home to be built on. At the last moment, my dad made a unilateral decision to switch and get the bigger lot, in fact, the biggest lot on the block. On the creek. With the most fucking trees. With the prickly leaves. My dad was a yardaholic. Lawn was his addiction. He worked ten hours a day, six days a week, with a forty minute commute on either end of his long days. On Sunday, he mowed, he edged, he trimmed, he plucked, he fertilized, he eradicated pests, he groomed, he manicured. He drank beer; Olympia, then rewarded himself with a bourbon and water, on the rocks. Then wine after dinner.
I began raking, making piles on the patio, on the lawn, on the pathways, in the garden area adorned with shrubs and rose bushes. I have a second beer. I realize I have officially lost count of the number of barrels I have dumped down the creek, somewhere past ten barrels. I don’t know what that says about my ability to count past ten, or for my ability to count, at all, after two beers, in the sun, on a now empty stomach. Breakfast was hours ago. I take a break for lunch, prepare and eat a hamburger with melted brie on top. No mayo. Carrots on the side. And the rest of my beer.
Mom visited with me while I inhaled my lunch. She reminded me of these “tools” she had for picking up leaves. I’d used them before. Once every six months, or so, some family member is tasked with raking all the leaves the landscape maintenance engineer has blown into the shrubbery and under the deck. Now that three quarters of the leaves, many very prickly, had been picked up with rake, shovel and fist, I recalled these hand implements. I’m not quite sure how to describe them, except, well, imagine Edward Scissorhands – but with rake hands instead. They’re total cool, they actually work. I love the inventor. I want to buy him an ice cream cone! They’ve withstood many a leaf pile over the years, which surprises me, because I’m sure they’re some “as seen on TV” purchase, and you do know that “as seen on TV”, translated from Chinese, means “breaks after first use, thank you for your dollars.” In short order I have deftly scooped up giant “handfuls” of leaves, eradicating ingredients for some very high quality top soil from the remainder of the lawn and shrubbery. That’s okay, we buy top soil in plastic bags. Again, the June Cleaver mentality, why make soup if you can buy soup already made, in a can? You can make top soil? I digress.
I finish up the yard out at the edge of the yard, by the creek, where the oleander and agapanthus grow. Oleander and agapanthus, the most cliché garden selections possible in the USDA Hardiness Zone 9. They are exceedingly easy to care for and absolutely impossible to destroy. I’ve tried to kill an oleander, purposefully, with malice aforethought. I can tell you this; oleander is harder to root out and kill than Osama bin Laden.
Now for the deck. Did I mention the house has a deck? It was included; a four foot by eight foot redwood deck. Cute, right? All of the neighbors, without exception, extended their decks to accommodate more than one folding lawn chair. My dad extended ours by acres. In addition to having the largest yard on the block, with the most trees, we also have the largest deck. It’s not like we had ten children in the family. I was the only one, though I may have been more active than most. And never did my folks entertain fifty people, at once, in the backyard. Oh, except for my wedding reception, yes, the wedding I am trying to undo presently.
Acres of deck, covered in prickly leaves. I go all push broom on the deck. There were still stubborn piles of hail in the shady spots. I sent the hail balls scattering with each mighty thrust of the broom. It was almost fun. Almost. I scooched the leaves and hail off the side of the deck into the tiny, fenced off side yard. And there I left them.
I am usually a real “task completion” kind of girl. I mean, breaking for lunch was hard enough, I really just wanted to power through, but as I was growing weak after four hours of constant raking, a couple of beers with an above average ABV, and lots of sunshine making the damp ground all steamy. And I left the side yard for another day. I have a very good reason and a bit of logic behind my decision. First, the yard is fenced, so even in the usual afternoon breeze, the leaves are, for the most part, corralled. The logic. Second; within that fenced side yard is the fruitless mulberry tree, and I would really, really, really, like to know which parent decided this was a fine landscape specimen for our yard. Every year the Frisbee sized leaves turn bright yellow for about eleven and a half seconds, then crash to the ground in a massive heap, and every year, for most of my life, someone has had to rake them all up. This year, that will be me. I am economizing both time and energy here, I will simply wait for the annual torrent of huge, yellow, fucking leaves and rake them all up at once!
Six hours. Six hours of raking, sweeping, shoveling, and scooping, hauling and dumping. I worked my ass off, right, like that could ever happen! Thankfully not! So, I sat on the clean swept deck, enjoying a beer, watching the afternoon breeze waft through the trees, knocking to the ground a flurry of green, prickly, hail-loosened leaves. Oh, hail no! I think I sobbed a little.