San Diego is a desert and the last few years have been completely rainless from April to November with a few light sprinkles in the winter months. So I didn’t think too much of it when some of the lesser landscaping started to die off—an azalea here, a rhododendron there, a wilted geranium. And the grass, well, you can tell I’m a bit of a fanatic when it comes to my dogs, and the worst case of bladder cancer I ever saw was in a young woman who worked for ChemLawn, so when the grass started to die I was philosophical: maybe it will come back when it rains. But “Sugar Magnolia” was always one of my favorite songs and when the beautiful thirty foot magnolia tree failed to sprout new leaves this past spring, I began to realize that the problem needed investigating. The withered palm trees and the parched horse pastures were the proverbial last straw, but my water bills still came with a warning: “We are in a state of drought: PLEASE CURB YOUR USE OF WATER!”
Just before I left for Jamaica in October, the Santa Ana winds came from the east, and parched branches began to snap and fall heavily across the driveways and corrals. As I walked out to check on the horses, a huge limb from a water starved eucalyptus was jettisoned towards my head. I put my arm up to ward off the blow, and was rewarded with cuts and bruises worthy of a prizefighter. That’s when I called Dave, my friendly arborist and landscaper. As we walked the property, he said, “What has happened here? It used to be so beautiful.” I looked at my old check registers and realized it had been six years since he had last done any work on the old homestead. I was living on three acres of dirt.
Initially the plan had been to trim the trees for safety’s sake. Just the trees. The eucalyptus grow like weeds here, and mine were over 100 feet tall. There are at least forty of them. The estimate was ten days at $1500 a day. You have to pay people a lot of money to climb trees that high. A month later, the wood chipper was a permanent fixture in my driveway, the horses no longer spooked at the noise, and I could heat my home for the next ten years with the wood piles, if such a thing were necessary in San Diego. While the men who looked like Cirque du Soleil performers were lowering huge branches with ropes from treetops, Dave was investigating the sprinklers. As he suspected, broken pipes underground were pouring water into the creek at the bottom of the property. Over and out. There was no water where water was sorely needed, yet I was using more than my share.
Ten weeks after the work started, today the men finished up. I’ve gotten to know them, their children, and their preferences for fast food. Matt took it upon himself to get my fountain going for free, with a pump that was being wasted in his garage. That fountain which had not worked since we moved in sixteen years ago is now bubbling pleasantly, masking the noise from the street. The dead juniper bushes lining the driveway have been replaced, and there are new pink and purple geraniums blooming amongst the azaleas and ice plant. Norman and Dash have grass again in their pastures and the dogs will no longer make mud pies when they venture out at night by the fence line which was inexplicably always wet and dark. A state of the art weather station will now dictate how often and how much the sprinklers sprinkle. All is right with the landscaping.
I had hoped to go back to Africa for my sixtieth birthday, but that isn’t happening. I have a week off after Christmas and I will be taking a lovely “staycation” here in the paradise that is my backyard. Today I signed over my end of the year bonus check to Dave, who complained, “We went so long over time and budget on this project, I could barely pay my men. My children won’t be having Christmas this year. My wife is going to divorce me.” I am very gullible and I have a soft heart. I threw in an extra $200 and said, “Dave, please use this to buy presents for your wife and kids. “ I figure I’ve got about a week before the deerhounds start their landscraping.