My relationship with nature is complicated. When I moved from the city to a rural neighborhood in New Hampshire, I feared for my life. Seriously. I cowered in my house, more afraid of the sounds coming from the forest than I was of the drunk guy at the bus stop. There is such a thing as too much nature — and if you’d like to laugh at me and my insecurities, I will re-post my feelings about too much nature next time, in a frantic missive I wrote during my time there, probably scrawled from the inside of my closet.
I thought Frank Ford the Northwoods Plant Man could rescue me from too much nature at my cabin. Mike was the general in charge of bat insurgency and I was the secretary of weed defense; but I had no army to lead the campaign while I was away. I don’t know if you know this, but weeds grow. Like constantly. It threatens my need for order and has the potential to render my sweet little cabin . . . oh god . . . I can barely even say it . . . ugly.
Other examples of too much nature that I hoped Frank could manage include the charming but lethal “steps” leading from our cabin down to the dock.
Crumbling and haggard from years of shifting earth and encroaching vegetation, it was probably safer to just rappel down the hill than to use the “steps.” We found ourselves going around the steps instead of using the steps because, in addition to being un-usable, they looked like some archeological find we could be desecrating.
The path to the beach was no better; steep, narrow and riddled with tree roots and raspberry thorns, I often pictured myself tumbling down the path instead of walking. If I were more childlike, I’d just get in forward roll position at the top of the path and somersault to the bottom.
So we never invite anyone to our cabin. It’s a total liability. Plus there’s nowhere for you to sleep unless you bring your own tent.
I also found that I went from the cabin to the dock, the cabin to the dock. I never stopped in between. Get on the boat, get out of the boat. When you get out of the boat, you go in the cabin. Something was wrong here. And we figured out that the weedy, dusty shitshow at the bottom of the “steps” just didn’t invite us to sit down and relax.
This is our weedy, dusty shitshow . . .
It was time to take the cabin renovation outside. You learned about Frank Ford earlier; how he doesn’t have a computer. Or an email address. And how he went to London to see how the British celebrate the 4th of July. I called him to tame my wilderness and to create more pleasant traffic lanes on my property. And he did. He truly did. With the aid of a little flagstone, cedar, and a merry band of Finns, he transformed an inhospitable place into an outdoor room. It’s like we put an addition on our house — an addition with no walls — the impact is just that great.
But just to be clear: it doesn’t take much. I’m not talking about waterfalls and pizza ovens. I’m just talking about a steady place to put your foot. A weed-free place to sit down. Delineated spaces that invite you to stop and take in the view.
But more importantly, he takes the edges off my need to weed, to conquer nature. And instead, place a little more trust in Mother Nature.
He’s very convincing that way. When he arrives the first time, before I know that we will be communicating via US Mail, I offer him a cup of coffee.
“I don’t drink coffee,” he says. “I tried it once when I was 63. Not for me.”
And I am impressed. Not because coffee is so bad for you but because it’s rare to meet a person who wants to do it on their own. No crutches.
“Oh I still get sleepy,” he adds. “Sometimes I buy a triple espresso and put it in my fridge. When I need a little charge, I just . . ”
. . . he pantomimes opening the fridge, taking the cup, throwing back one sip, putting it back in the fridge and closing the door.
And even though he just contradicted what I thought about him, I am still impressed. He’s still a man who understands the nature of things but refuses to follow the herd. I think he’s man who can help me with my rocks and weeds without making my paradise look like it sits on a cul-de-sac.
“What do I do about them?” I ask. “The weeds? How do I keep this under control?” I’m looking for permission to nuke things. Maybe some insider tips from a pro. But, instead, he looks at me and pantomimes pulling weeds. He reaches out with his right hand, grabs an invisible bundle and throws it over his shoulder. Then he repeats with his left hand.
“Oh . . okay.” I say, a little ashamed.
“What is this?” I ask, pointing to the thorny sticks that grab and poke and scratch me in the ankles.
“That’s a wild rose,” he says.
“They are everywhere! I tried to kill them last year but they keep coming back!”
“They’re beautiful when they bloom,” he says.
“Yeah, but they’re in all the paths and the thorns scratch me as I walk by. What can I do about that?”
And, very calmly, he says “Wear long pants.”
I’m beginning to feel like Veruca Salt, screeching for her own golden goose. If Veruca Salt had realized the error of her ways and felt remorse.
It appears that Frank Ford is more about adding instead of taking away. Enhancing instead of annihilating. Working with instead of against. He sees room for real steps and paths and sitting areas so that I can enjoy my weeds instead of battle them.
And now that he is almost done, I can walk safely here . . .
And here . . .
This little walkway gets me halfway to the beach without somersaulting. And it’s also a pretty good place to stand and watch boats.
And I can sit here . . .
As we plan, we discuss a small outcropping that could be tamed into a sitting area for one, a mini patio. He writes it down on his yellow legal pad. “We’ll call it your mini pad,” he says.
Here’s my lakeside perch for one, my mini pad.
And I take a chill pill. I sit down on my flagstone resting places and look around me. I stop freaking out at the notion of every errant seedling poking up through the soil. In return, I get these little orange flowers that open up while I am away.
I get these yellow ones that pop up in front of my mini pad.
And white ones and purple ones sprinkled around the bottoms of birch trees. What looks like a weed one day could turn out to be a flower the next. But how would I have known that without Frank?
Frank is finishing up this weekend. I haven’t seen the final FINAL result; there’s still more to be done. And, because cabin season is over, I won’t see it until May.
“Can you send me some pictures when you’re done?” I ask. As soon as it leaves my mouth, I realize what I’m asking. He will have to take some photos with his camera, bring them to the Target an hour away to get them developed, and then send them to me in the mail.
“Sure!” he says. This is how he lives. It won’t be a problem. “But I have one more thing to tell you,” he adds.
“Yes . . . it’s my birthday today.”
There’s really only one thing to say, isn’t there? But I pause because I’m both surprised and honored that he shared this with me. “That’s great!” I say. “Happy Birthday!”
“Well thank you for that. I don’t talk to many people so I have to say something if I want to get some happy birthdays.”
“Happy Birthday,” I say again.
Because he totally deserves two.