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Good ole Mary S.

Good ole Mary S.

I walked up the backyard yesterday after a walk with a friend in the soft rain. I was already thinking of the next thing I had to do when I walked over the bridge over the gully kwai (not its real name) and had enough sense to pause and see the blooms where they were planted. I felt a calming and a brightening simultaneously. The leafed out Japanese maple was all the umbrella I needed from the rain sprinkling down and the pine straw path hushed my clodhopper footfalls. And then right at eye-level were these babies. Not babies at all, quite mature like myself, but planted by Mary and Stuart decades ago, exactly in the right place for me to get happier just then. I think I’ll go back out there right this second. Our yard is such that if I don’t get right out in it and wander around, I can miss the best of what those Shumates did back there.

Mary’s been gone for a year now, but those azaleas and the phlox and ajuga and vinca busting out all over keep her ever-present. Excuse me, while I go pay my respects to her plants.




Every fall I resist collecting pine straw for the paths in my backyard. With a sinking feeling, I think if I don’t get cracking, people will steal my stash and/or leaves will mix in and ruin it. Most people I know have yard people cut their grass and rake their leaves. We don’t, and now with no kids at home, there’s no one pitching in. And then I add to the work by raking up other people’s detritus out on the streets. It sounds dumb. It is dumb. But once I get past all that, it’s kind of fun.

I, too, was once someone who didn’t give a crap about pine straw, but every fall I turn into a freak about it. I need 20 bags of it. If I tweeted on Twitter, I’d say things like “OMG, scored six bags of the good stuff.” And the police would come to arrest me. “Honest, officer, it’s six bags of pine straw–just look at the quality of this stuff.”   Another in a series of reasons why I shouldn’t be on Twitter.

Every year I doubt I can hit my mark. Every year pine straw flutters down. Every year I bemoan my woeful bag count. Stall, delay, complain. And then once I get past four bags, I can see double digits just down the road. It takes only about five minutes per bag, counting the driving time. At some point it gets hard to stop. God knows I waste 5 minutes chunks all the time, perhaps one could argue, right now. 

But yesterday, after a rainy weekend I drove by a yard guy blowing pine straw off a neighbor’s front yard onto our street.  I raced home and retrieved my rake and bags and zoomed back before he had time to throw it all away. 5 easy bags worth hugged the edges of my street. It was pure. Golden. Soft. Piled up like bedding.  How could I have doubted the generosity of my own street? As I walked back and forth from my car I noticed how good it felt underfoot. How muffled my footsteps were by its softness. Perhaps kitchen floors should be made of pine straw. Just one idea here that is free for the taking–just like pine straw.

I’m back!