The Irony of It All, Part Two

The dogs are quiet today, sprawled out across their various rugs and beds in the family room.  After the panic and anxiety caused by the fires here in San Diego last week and the heat that generated them, it is pleasant to feel the cool breeze created by opposing windows in my kitchen.  I am waiting for delivery of a piece of furniture—an old Chinese grain storage bin which had been “repurposed” as a decorative cabinet long ago, and which is about to be “repurposed” anew to hold the television controller and cable box for my new flat screen wall mounted tv—the evolutionary equivalent of man’s preoccupation with necessity progressing towards his preoccupation with luxury.  I treasure the symbolism in my treasures, as it were.

The cabinet will put the finishing touches on the home improvement projects we started nearly a year ago.  My friends with giant dogs and horses will feel a pang of recognition when I say that by moving in here over sixteen years ago, we traded a beautiful home graced with a gourmet kitchen (with two dishwashers, no less!) for acreage with a tumble down ranch house that was a few years beyond “fixer upper” into true “tear down” geriatrics.  It all started with the cat, that self-same Bitty Kitty who visited a year ago while my daughter traveled for internship interviews.  He took a dust bath in the living room fireplace and carried the blackened ashes to the already worn couches and carpet stained by a myriad of prior pets.  When we replaced the couches and carpet, the owner of the furniture store oversaw delivery and remarked, “You’re too old to be living with three-day-blinds!  This is not an apartment!  Why don’t you get some real curtains?!” The new curtains gave the old paint job a dingy tint and the new paint job made the bathroom tiles look ever so dated, and well…you know how it goes.  Last week we actually epoxy’d the garage floor.  It is now perfect.

Severe drought in the West over the last few years and overly aggressive tree roots furtively seeking water had taken their toll on our landscaping, and the bulk of our meager water supply was emptying underground from broken pipes, so that too needed attention and correction and above all, money.  Six months after completing the irrigation work, our water bills are lower than they’ve ever been, and the rose bushes are blooming again.  San Diego may be a desert, but how green are my pastures!

So I am enjoying this brief period of “this old house” being “as good as it gets.” I am no Martha Stewart, nor was ever meant to be, and my husband is definitely not “handy”—he would rather hire someone than change a light bulb.  The kids are grown, the horses are ancient, and even the dogs have slowed down a bit.  The house is for sale, and rightly so.  But every so often, I sit in the kitchen and listen to the wind chimes and watch the mother bird nesting and chirping in the ceramic birdhouse outside the open window. And I wonder why it took me sixteen years to realize that my “tear down” is instead, a little piece of paradise.

A Month Late and Several Dollars Short

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.