This article originated as a regular column appearing in The Finger Lakes Times in Upstate New York: http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/cameron_miller/denim-spirit-life-s-strange-paradoxes/article_50622f56-907c-11e6-94cf-1bc5a16167ed.html#utm_source=fltimes.com&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletters%2Fheadlines%2F&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headline
I lived in a suburb once, in church owned housing, and my neighbor could be seen crawling in the yard wearing a pith helmet while rooting up dandelions. No joke. He was a sweet man, retired from one of those mythical auto jobs that allowed people to retire with a pension after thirty years on the assembly line, and from the outside looking in I imagined his retirement revolved around the yard. To be fair he had a prodigious vegetable garden as well, and that does not happen without a lot of work. But still, the amount of time he spent on his perfect, golf course green quality lawn, was bewildering to me.
My favorite yard ever was connected to our row house on the Elmwood Strip in Buffalo. The front yard was no bigger than a large oriental rug and had an ornamental tree in the middle. The backyard was a walled courtyard with no grass. Halleluiah!
From lean to mean, we then moved to Vermont – the real Vermont, not Burlington, which the rest of the state really considers New York. We lived half a mile from the border with Quebec surrounded by mountains and lakes. In anticipation of looking for a house I imagined we would live in the back woods in a cabin. Never happened. It turns out that Vermont has an awful lot of gray days, especially in the long winter and sloppy spring, so living in a house with lots of light seemed more important than a cozy nest in the woods shrouded in the dark of shade. On top of that, being able to see water from the window was hugely cathartic. So imagine my surprise when, low and behold, I was surrounded by people who spent a great deal of time perfecting their lawns! In Vermont, lawns, who knew? Looking at Bernie Sanders’ hair no one would associate neat, trim, lawns with the Green Mountain State, but they love lawns there.
Then from an acre of green grass nestled among the Green Mountains, I came to live in Geneva.
For most of this year I lived in an old brick cabin, the recently renovated Foreman’s workshop on the grounds of the old Smith nursery. The cabin cannot be seen from the street because it is surrounded by long vacant wooded land even though it is smack dab in the middle of the city. Deer, skunk, woodchuck, coyote, silver fox, hawks, and vultures were regular visitors to my back yard, even more frequently than in my scenic rural Vermont home. Hidden in the woods in the city, where deer nonchalantly looked up and stare at the dog and me instead of running away as they would when munching my lawn in Vermont, I marveled at the strange paradoxes life delivers.
Now I am in a new home, the fourth house I have lived in this year. This one is mine; at least the bank allows me to pretend it is. I have a lawn again but I sold my John Deere when I left Vermont. The yard is shaded and mostly obscured by hedgerow so the manicured look isn’t required. While isolation and quiet were good for writing poetry and fiction, I am hoping shade and a hedgerow, not to mention walking the dog early and late in an old cemetery, will also nurture the muse.