A Better Sense of Place

2014 December 27 (Sat)

The Leaf Incident

I wasn't sure I wanted to post about the latest interaction with the neighbor, but I figure it might help give a more complete history of this yard-restoration process. It's been two weeks since it happened, but it feels like it was only yesterday.

Every weekday morning, I get my bike out of the garage, check the tires and brakes, and head out to work. But first, I ride slowly in the street around the property and check on the progress of all the plants.

That's exactly what I did on the morning of Thursday, December 11. I rode down the driveway, looked over the sprouts in the new front beds, thought a bit about the asters and what I'm going to do with them as they finish flowering, scanned along the fenceline along the side of the house to check if an idea would finally hit me for that area, and turned into the back alley.

The entrance was still mostly desert thanks to a suspected herbicide spraying earlier this year. Moving on, I saw the two coralbeans were still leafy green, even though it's December. Then I noticed something new: a large pile of leaves was covering the purple coneflower, straggler daisy, lanceleaf coreopsis, and the remains of the partridge pea and Maximilian sunflower, blocking all light and promoting rot.

Primed by the history with the neighbor just across the narrow alley road from these natives, I concluded that it must have been their landscaper again, covering an "unsightly bed" with mulch. I couldn't let these plants and any fallen and sowed seeds be buried. They need sun and air flow. I got off my bike and started using my hands to rake out the leaves. I couldn't recognize the leaves and didn't know which trees they came from. Perhaps a short tree in the backyard that I couldn't see because of the ten-foot-tall fortress-like brick wall.

There were a lot, and I tip-toed through the bed as I clawed out leaves to get the plants exposed to air and sun again. I was making a huge pile that was blocking the entire alley, and then I noticed another pile of leaves farther down the alley next to the forsythia. I rode back around to get my rake from the garage. I gently raked out what I could and gathered it all up in a long pile. Somebody in a car pulled into the alley entrance and stopped, backed up, and I guess went around to the other entrance.

I was feeling late for work and stressed from these latest feelings of having my native plant struggles pissed on in absentia when I'm not around to protect them. I was blocking the alley and had to do something, so I began raking the leaves over to the other side, covering their monoculture of Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum). I figured it was their leaves, they need to keep them on their side and to stop disrespecting my plants.

I put the rake back in the garage and rode off to work, still mad at what happened and not looking forward to what could happen next. Will they move the leaves back? Will they dig up more plants (like the yaupon that DPW took away)? Will they napalm? As I got nearer to work, I realized it probably wasn't the best reaction I could have had and that I should probably take the leaves back when I get home. I could actually use those leaves somewhere to kill some grass. I decided I should go around to their front door and talk to them, the prospect of which stressed me all day.

But when I got back home after work, the leaves were in four very large black plastic bags by the road (on my side). I hate seeing leaves and other compostable material in plastic bags. I dragged them around and put them in my backyard for the weekend. The sun had already set — remember I was late to work that morning — so I went inside and figured any resolution could wait.

The next morning (Friday, December 12) at 7:00, I was upstairs drying off from the shower and Rikki was getting ready for work when we heard a long, continuous banging on the front door, longer than seems right for a knock. We stopped and looked at each other. I was thinking it was either somebody here to shoot us or it's the neighbor. Rikki went down to open the door and I was really hoping it was the neighbor. I finished drying off as I heard Rikki say something like "that would be childish" and "that's not his style". I went to the bedroom and rifled through the closet for something I can put on quickly. I went downstairs as Rikki came up, alive and not shot.

I opened the door to see a woman scowling and pacing a bit on the front walk. I said something like "Oh, you must be the one who lives behind us."

"I have a name."

I reached out my hand and said, "I'm Leif." She didn't take it for a brief yet noticeable amount of time before finally shaking it. She was visibly and audibly upset. Some might even go so far as to say livid. Before stepping out, I had grabbed my stack of Native American Seed catalogs because I figured it would be best to have an Exhibit A to show off. Barefoot, in a t-shirt, and with catalogs in hand, I walked with her through the wet and cold grass and stopped between the arrowwood viburnum and red buckeyes. I was offering that we should exchange contact information so we could avoid misunderstandings in the future.

"I don't know if I want to give you my contact information. You're a mean person." She pointed across the street at a three-story house with a Bradford pear. "That's obviously where the leaves came from."

I turned around and looked. The ground was bare with dirt and scalped exotic grass. It hit me that the leaves I was clawing at were Bradford pear leaves, brought there by the unscrupulous landscaper of a different neighbor.

"You know what? I think you're right!"

We continued walking around to the alley and had a lengthy back and forth. I won't go into all the details because I don't even remember all of them. Plus, this is a public blog that she reads. I will say, though, that I had a crappy day with this hanging over me. Even if I had been right, that it was her leaves, I shouldn't have reacted in the way that I did.

So I will stop there with that as the moral for anyone else going native. I'm lucky enough to find myself surrounded by lots of neighbors who stop me all the time to say they like this or that plant or my reel mower. They wave and smile as they walk by, or they stop their car and roll down the window because they want me to know. One even wrote me a letter back in October and attached an article on wildflowers, saying "Thanks for making the world more beautiful."

But even if you're lucky enough to have such understanding and supportive neighbors, you may still have some vocal critics that just doesn't yet know about the importance of natives (to our environment, our grandchildren, our agriculture system, and our mental and spiritual health). The naysayers don't get that there is no one-size-fits-all box from Lowe's that you open up and plant. But even still, I think I'm pretty lucky there too because my critics seem to be willing to respect my "property" and put up with me instead of immediately calling the cops. I just need to stick to doing what needs to be done.


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