I've never been much of a tree hugger, but lately I'm starting to understand the need to weave myself some hemp sandals, let my nails grow long and pretend.
You see, last spring my wife Lala somehow fancied herself a gardener and started planting like Johnny Appleseed—if Johnny were a Janey and had taken liberal doses of speed. She established annuals in pots, perennials in beds and ripped out all the donkey tails and goat heads to make way for thin-leaf yucca and bushes where butterflies can get their drank on. The thing you have to understand about Lala is that she's more particular than a wine snob in Trader Joe's. Historically, this finicky behavior has been confined to the inside of our house, where color swatches hang like mini-shingles from our walls and our bedroom has been relocated to every room except the water closet. Now Lala has ditched her paintbrush for a trowel and latex for something called Yum Yum Mix, which sounds like a dish you'd see bubbling in a chafer at a Chinese buffet.
Lala has made our front and backyard look like they should grace the cover of Folk Art Garden Magazine, if there were such a thing. The problem with her new obsession, however, is she wants me to join in on all the dirty ole fun. The other night I was lou
nging on a fire-engine red Adirondack chair, shifting my gaze from the blood-orange sunset to a stand of pinkish zinnias in a cobalt-blue pot. Black lager in hand, I felt as if my Technicolor life should be featured on the Lazy-Ass Man's Disney Channel.
"I don't know about that pear tree," Lala said, her hands sheathed in gloves dripping with mulch.
Recognizing that phrase, I immediately employed misdirection. "Look at our sweet children. They are so happy together."
On the trampoline, our son London was laughing hysterically while bouncing perilously close to his sister's head.
"Who would plant trees so close together?" she asked with the intonation of a detective questioning a particularly nasty crime scene.
She had a point. The ornamental pear looked as anemic as Kate Moss after a bender and was on a collision path with a very healthy apricot. "I think it's fine," I scoffed.
"No it's not." She glanced over to see if a pile of bottles gathered at my feet, but the lager was my first friendly soldier. "It hasn't grown in 10 years."
I shrugged. "Still bears fruit." I had evidence at my disposal if the tribunal required such.
"Can't eat it."
"Birds can." I held my finger in the air as if the black-eyed Susans were keeping score.
Her gaze sharpened. "Since when did you give a rat's ass about birds?"
"Oh, you know," I said, waving my hand in the air like a debutante and venturing deeper into dangerous territory. "I've always loved birds. Remember how I acted when I saw that eagle this summer in Maine?"
"We're not talking about eagles here, Mr. Audubon. And last time I checked, we're not stuck on a boat we don't own."
I knew better than to lock eyes with her and blow my cover. Truth be told, I didn't really care about the jays picking at the bitter little globes around the impish leaf maker. If I agreed to her assessment, though, we'd be visiting every nursery and tree farm in the county, inquiring about ashes and willows, fertilizer and root balls, full sun and xeriscape capades. I just wanted to relax in my chair until the bats swooped low enough to lick my eyeballs.
Sighing, I said, "I just hate to kill anything that's still breathing."
"Right," she answered, but it sounded like spitting.
"Dead man, dead man, come alive," the kids sang from inside their safe mesh prison.
"Tell me about it," Lala said.
Rob Wilder's most recent book is Tales from the Teacher's Lounge. His column, Daddy Needs A Drink, appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Santa Fe Reporter