The same cheerful hurly-burly

raised bed

It is tempting, sometimes, to call this neighborhood less wild than the other places I have called home in the close to ten years since I left New York City. There are stop signs and water mains and dogs accustomed to their leashes, tidy sod lawns, fences every hundred feet or so that say this is mine and that is yours. I do not watch the fireflies flirting in the marsh a hundred feet off my back deck. The goats do not call to me at milking time from their spot under the enormous old oak at the highest point on our old farm. There is no Virginia creeper or bittersweet snaking its way up our front porch.

But there is a small brown rabbit that sits and chews quietly between two of our raised beds most mornings. The cardinals here fill their lungs just as boldly and sing the same cheerful hurly-burly hurly-burly hurly-burly as I make my coffee. Here they call from somewhere in the spiny sanctuary of holly all around. Last year they called from the mulberry at the edge of the marsh, and in Virginia it was the sycamore outside our kitchen window. Neither the plantain nor the clover will be beaten back, for all my mowing. On the nights when I walk the dog, I regularly nearly trip on a toad that must live under the porch, and last week a young garter snake eyed me calmly as I hung the diapers. I keep forgetting to roll up the car windows and the most exquisite spider webs appear on my dashboard overnight. A few months ago a mourning dove made its nest in our gutter. The dragonflies right now are a marvel to me and they touch down everywhere: clothesline, tomato stake, radio antenna on the car. These creatures, I am reminded, don’t discriminate. They find some food, and find a mate, and make themselves at home.

I sat on our back steps with a glass of iced coffee late this morning, eye to eye with an inchworm swaying on its silk escape rope, and I thought how our suburban street has more than a little in common with all the farms I have known. We humans harrow and mow and mulch and build, hoping to coax the land into providing us food or shelter. But we are always just a step ahead of the bindweed, or the bean beetles, or the crows, and that’s only if we’re quick enough and lucky enough. The lawns will always need mowing, and the shingles will always be battered by the wind off the ocean, and some pretty bird will always be eager to make its nest in our gutter.

And of course: the bay. It is four hundred yards from porch to surf. We leash the dog and set off, stopping perhaps to talk with a neighbor about the mosquitoes, or how big the baby is getting, or Ninja Turtles. We walk on. We slip off our sandals and climb the dune and then there it is: broad like the sea, glassy and lazy some days, other times fierce and grey. We right overturned horseshoe crabs. We inspect sea lettuce and graceful red weed and knobbed whelk egg cases in the wrack line. We identify laughing gulls, semipalmated sandpipers, snowy egrets, and at least a half dozen others that we will look up when we get back to the house. Here more than anywhere, I am reminded: we are only scratching the surface. Sure as the plantain and the cardinals, we will be at home here soon enough.

horseshoe crabs

12 thoughts on “The same cheerful hurly-burly

  1. Am

    I always enjoy reading your poetic nature descriptions. They sound like modern-day Thoreau or Rachel Carson.

  2. Margit Van Schaick

    I do hope that this place can be your home for a significant chunk of time. That bay surely demands your attention, and love. I think you’d miss it terribly, with it’s being so changeable, so alive. Added to that the noisy cardinals and the quieter beauties of all the other creatures you mention. Seems like a pretty good place to raise a family.

  3. KC

    Such beautiful words Lisa. I so glad you have found joy in your new place. While we were visiting Maine I thought so interesting how people outside of the desert have to fight back nature with so much effort. Where as here we have to survive in it. There it would seem people are always cutting back nature trying not to be swallowed up by trees and weeds and grasses. Where as here we nurture and coddle ever single plant. 🙂

  4. Sally

    You are a wonderful writer and the warm hue of the photos accompany your words so nicely. It’s just amazing to see someone scratch the surfaces of some larger issues all the while talking about a suburban lawn.

  5. nicole

    Oh Lisa. I am so late to this and it’s just what I needed to read today. I have been so sad returning here to this awful and huge city, mourning the end (for now?) of the flora and fauna we experienced in California. And I miss my city; San Francisco is urban, of course, but I loved living there particularly because it feels so of and part of the sea and the fog and there are so many wild places within it purposefully preserved.

    … STILL, this reminds me that there IS wild and nature here, even in a tiny sense. You’re right: the grass grows, the fog blows in, the birds nest in the air conditioning unit of one of our unused rooms, and in the spring a falcon or hawk hung out on our skylight a lot. I can see the ocean from the upstairs bedroom. So if it’s not my place and probably will never be my place I am going to try to hold on to what is ‘natural’ and untouched as much as I possibly can even in the smallest of ways. Ie, thank you.

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