I cleared brush the other day. It might seem like a strange thing to do for somebody who owns two patches of land that measure a mere five feet by two, but clear brush is indeed what I did. It was a necessity. Mother Nature had taken over my property and was bent upon pushing me and my house out of her life. I have never ever seen twenty square feet of such tightly packed vegetation. It was fucking ridiculous. You know how it is in spring, when you see tiny little green shoots making their way up through the soil and you're so happy to see life returning to the cold parched earth. And then those shoots begin to grow and turn into stems and leaves. And then they grow some more and they keep growing and they just don't stop growing and then you realize you are the modern day version of Jack with the bean stalk. Except Jack climbed the beanstalk in search of better career opportunities and you continue to be grounded because you value job stability.
Apparently in my case, the previous owner had decided to throw all condo-living etiquette to the wind and recreate a miniature tropical rain forest in her front yard, which is an area, the size you wouldn't even be able to park a hatchback in. This place was a botanical Dharavi. Plants were living on top of other plants, other plants were trying to crawl underneath still other plants, all engaged in the business of trying to squeeze every drop of sustenance out of the land. In between were the illegal squatters : weeds that had somehow escaped everyone's notice, grown to a monstrous height and were now pretending to be rose bushes. When I purchased this house, I remember the previous owner telling me how she had been desirous of importing and planting the 59,500 sq. feet spanning giant banyan tree of Chennai in her flower bed. Luckily for me, while she was there, she incurred the wrath of Rajnikanth fans by being openly skeptical about his bullet-catching abilities and had to fly back in a hurry.
Also, my wife brought up the snake issue. I am only slightly terrified by snakes. If I see a snake, I feel only a mild urge to curl up into a ball and roll downhill. My wife has considerably less reptile tolerance. According to her, every inch of soil on our property not visible for inspection due to its foliage cover could potentially turn into a snake sanctuary. So she assigned me the task of getting rid of the jungle and using my famed people skills, gently coax any angry snake that I happened upon to depart from my property.
So I began to clear brush.
The one thing that aided me in drumming up the required enthusiasm for this brush-clearing project was the knowledge that our last president spent so much time doing it. It's a well-known fact that President Bush liked to have his fun. If this guy spent six months of every year clearing brush, surely there had to be something enjoyable about it. But then as I plunged deeper into the project and realized how thoroughly unpleasant and soul-crushing this activity really was, I realized something. If President Bush chose brush-clearing over his job as leader of the free world, boy, he must have really really hated his job. Well, good for him for surviving his eight years in office. I developed a gnawing sympathy for the poor guy. That's when I realized I was either getting dehydrated or the sun was doing something terrible to my brain. So I went and put on my cap and drank some water.
My first order of business was to trim the peonies. Peonies are to flowerbeds what the African elephant is to a bathtub. They are huge monstrous organisms that start out in life as cute little baby plants, which then sprout out roots that run all the way to your neighbor's medicine closet where they find and suck down all the human growth hormones they can find, marry Maria Shriver Kennedy, get elected Governor of California and then grow up all the way to your chimney. Just like you wouldn't raise an African elephant in a bathtub (if you are, more power to you, sir), you should not plant peonies in a flower bed.
Two days out of three hundred and sixty five, the peony "plant" bears flowers. These flowers are ginormous. Sure, they are reasonably good looking. Not pretty like the rose, but they do have petals that are not transparent. These flowers are heavy and the plant is unable to bear their weight. So it bends under the load and onto your driveway. There they remain in a drooping position for two days. On the third day, it rains, causing each and every petal of those flowers to fall to the earth where they turn into a rotting brown mush, are discovered by your local ant colony which, in light of this wonderful find, relocates in its entirety to your driveway. Trust me, you do not want to plant peonies in your garden.
I did not want those peonies in my garden next year. In fact, next year, I did not want to see in my garden a single thing that was growing there right now. I wished to start afresh with a clean slate. So I began the scorch and burn process. After I trimmed the peonies, I tried to pull them out by the root. I had very little success, although at one point, it did feel like I had pulled my shoulder out by the root. So I retrieved the pickaxe from my garage that I appear to have purchased at some unidentifiable time for some unidentifiable reason and haven't yet put to any use. After punching the peony plant in its nutsack a few hundred times, I realized that I was going nowhere. As, apparently, did my neighbor, who walked out of her garage to check where all that cursing was coming from.
"Here, you probably need this", she said, throwing some kind of large dark metallic object at my face. It turned out to be a shovel. I put aside my pickaxe and started pounding on the peonies with the shovel.
"Is this the first time you've used a shovel?", she asked me. "But I remember your dad telling me you have a large garden back in India."
"Yes, we do", I replied with some shame. "But I came here when I was a little boy so I didn't have much gardening experience from back then."
"Really?" she said. "How old were you when you came here?"
"Let me see", I said, doing some quick math. "I was....uh.....23".
She looked at me without comment.
"Okay, here's how you do this. The key is to push, not pull. Insert the shovel into the soil. Push down on it hard with your feet, then press the handle sideways, using it as a lever."
Lever, yes, that sounded familiar. I had studied levers in college. I wished I hadn't bunked all those "Theory of Machines" classes. Anyways, too late to do anything about it now. So I followed her instructions and after a bit of strenuous pushing, out came the peonies, roots and all.
"Alright", she said, "I think you've got it. Throw the shovel back into my garage when you're done."
There was a lot of crap to get rid of. Another bunch of peonies, two hydrangeas, some vague creeper with red flowers that appeared to be called a "chlamydia" although that doesn't sound right, a bunch of gigantic lilies, two enormous weeds that had turned into trees through the passage of time and a large bush that appears to have acted as a meeting-place for a number of shady members of the local wildlife club who scurried out when I pulled it up by the roots. It took me two hours to strip my garden of all that chlorophyll, but I was finally done.
I spent the next few days repopulating that space with small proportionate things. I purchased some day-lilies, a blue shrubby thing that they claim will last through winter and a number of petunias. My neighbor visited me again in order to monitor my progress. She remarked that the blue shrubby thing will be growing up and in due time, will be taking over my entire garden. She held her arms in front of her, trying to give me an idea of the future hugeness of the blue shrubby thing by air-sculpting its size and I tried to help her by eyebrowing her ample waistline to use as a measuring benchmark but she didn't get the message. I said fuck no, really, oh man. So I guess I'll be clearing brush next year too.
But at least it will keep me off the streets.